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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 13

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 13

Continued from Part 12

Comintern years – rise and fall of Roy

Before we end this section, let me mention in a summary form Roy’s career in Comintern:

After the Second World Congress, M.N. Roy had a meteoric rise in the International Communist movement.  Roy grew rapidly in the Comintern hierarchy. In 1922, he was elected a candidate member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) , and , a full voting member in 1924.  He was appointed a member of the Presidium in 1924. By 1926, Roy was enjoying a very influential position   in the Comintern. In Feb 1926, he was appointed to the Editorial staff of the Communist International; and, in the following December he was re-elected to the Presidium and joined the Political Secretariat of the ECCI. At the time of the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI (Nov 12-Dec 16, 1926), Roy became the Secretary of the Chinese Commission. By the end of 1926, Roy was an elected member of all the four official policy making bodies of the Comintern – the Presidium, the Political Secretariat, the Executive Committee and the World Congress.  The Plenum that was convened for the purpose of considering the Chinese problem adopted a thesis on the question and Roy was sent to China in 1927 as a representative of the Comintern to carry it out.

At the same time he authored many Marxist books, such as:  India in Transition (1922), The Future of Indian Politics (1926) and Revolution and Counter-revolution in China (1930). He also founded the organ of the émigré Communist Party of India, The Vanguard (and later The Masses) and edited it for seven years (1922-28).

In the meantime, Roy along with Joseph Stalin established Communist University of the Toilers of the East. Many of the future Presidents and Prime Ministers of colonial countries underwent training in this Institute where Roy and Evelyn taught.  Ho Chi Minh, later the supreme leader of Vietnam, studied in this school. Roy and Evelyn wrote large number of articles, pamphlets and books; and, edited journals and newspapers. Their mature writings written understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress.

For some reason, Roy and Evelyn separated sometime during 1925.

Following the events in China in 1927, Roy’s influence declined significantly, though he was not formally expelled until 1929.




As Roy’s influence on Communist movement in India began to wane, his work area was shifted to China. And, the Comintern sent Roy on a mission to China.  The circumstances surrounding Roy’s China mission were briefly as under.

Sometime in the fall of 1926, Roy reached Moscow, from Berlin, to attend the Seventh Plenum of The ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) scheduled from 22 November to 16 December 1926. During the Plenum, China was the principal subject of discussion. The debate, again, was about the role of the bourgeoisie in the liberation movement. The bourgeoisie now   in question was Kuomintang. And, the question had a long history.

Following the success of the October Revolution in Russia, there arose in China a national revolutionary movement of the working class and peasants against feudalism and foreign capital. With that, an old party dating back the last decade of the eighteenth century named Kuomintang (Kuo Min Tang = the Peoples Party of China) was revived.  Sun Yat-Sen took over the leadership of Kuomintang (KMT).

sun yat sen 1910

Sun Yat Sen 1910

The Second World Congress of the Communist International held in 1920 had resolved to support the national bourgeois revolutionary movements in the colonies and the semi-colonies. Accordingly, in 1923, the communists decided to support the nationalist movement of Sun Yat-Sen in China. And, that decision was formalized through an agreement signed on 26 January 1923 by Sun Yat-Sen and Adolph Joffe, the Soviet representative stationed in Shanghai. This agreement came to be known as the Sun-Joffe Manifesto, a declaration of cooperation among Comintern, Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party of China (CPC). . The manifesto also asserted that the Soviet system was not suitable for China; announced in general terms the willingness of Soviet to cooperate with the KMT in its struggle to unify China. The manifesto, thus, became the foundation of cooperation between the Kuomintang and Soviet Union.

Following that agreement, the Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin arrived in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the KMT along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Kuomintang (KMT) thus formed the First United Front.

In July 1923 Sun Yat-sen sent Chiang Kai-shek, one of his lieutenants for military and political training at Moscow. By 1924, Chiang rose to prominence and succeeded Sun Yat-Sen   as the head of Kuomintang forces.  Comintern allowed the members of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) to join the Kuomintang (KMT) on an individual basis. The CPC was still small at the time, having a membership of only 1,500 as compared to about 50,000 of Kuomintang. The Communists within the Kuomintang came to be known as the Left-Wing of Kuomintang.  

Chiang Kai-shek2

After the death of Sun Yat-sen in March 1925, the hostility of the Chinese bourgeoisie to the working class became clearly evident in the political rise of Chiang Kai-shek. The son of a wealthy merchant, Chiang had close ties with Shanghai’s bankers and compradors. Unlike Sun, Chiang Kai-shek was no intellectual. He had spent his early years among Shanghai’s gangsters, murderers and smugglers, who would later become his shock troops against the city’s working class.

The radicalization of the working class forced the CPC leadership to reconsider its relations with the KMT. In October 1925, Chen Duxiu again suggested that the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) quit the KMT and cooperate only externally.  But, the Comintern rejected the proposal.  Stalin favored trying to use the death of Sun to install “Left-Wing” or pro-Moscow leaders.

Stalin’s transformation of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) into an appendage of the KMT, left the party wide open to great dangers. On 20th March 1926, Chiang suddenly carried out a coup to tighten his stranglehold over the KMT. He not only toppled the so-called “left-wing” KMT leadership, but also detained 50 prominent communists and placed all Soviet advisers under house arrest.

Thereafter, the CPC and the Left-Wing of the KMT decided to move from Guangzhou (also known as Canton, and less commonly as Kwangchow) – the port city in Southern China , North-west of Hong Kong on the Pearl River –  to  Wuhan (in Central China, comprising three  major cities of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang ) where communist influence was strong.


At the same time, the CPC had also gathered considerable mass support in the countryside of Wuhan area, mainly from the peasants. The peasantry supporting the CPC and some members of the Left Wing KMT who essentially were Communists,  started demanding abolition of feudal landlords, confiscation of their lands and handing over of those lands to the tillers. Some picked up  fight with the  bourgeois landowners.

But, the problem was that the leadership of the Left-Wing of the KMT was dominated by landholding-class.  And, most of the officers of the KMT army also came from feudal families.

There was therefore a conflict of interests within the Left-Wing of the KMT.

The Communist support   for the demands of the peasants to confiscate lands from the feudal and to hand it over to the peasantry would effectively mean their certain expulsion from the KMT.


The conflict, in the perspective of Comintern was, in essence, the old conflict re-born; whether to support ‘the revolution from above’ or the ‘revolution from below’.

In the ECCI at the seventh Plenum (22 November to 16 December 1926), the Communist delegates from China were in favor of the status quo; and were not prepared to risk their relations with the KMT.  But, Roy , who then was a member of the Presidium, strongly objected to the stand of Chinese Communist delegation. He stuck to his well known faith in the ‘revolution from below’. Roy argued in favor of the agrarian revolution and the revolt of the peasants.

Trotsky insisted that the most urgent task was to establish the political independence of the Communist Party and de-link it from the “Left” KMT. “Precisely its lack of independence is the source of all evils and all the mistakes”. He also warned: politicians of the Left-KMT such as of   Wang Ching-wei type, under difficult conditions, will unite ten times with Chiang Kai-shek against the workers and peasants. And, therefore, it is imperative to support the Communist Party of China in its revolution.

However, the Chairman of the Chinese Commission in the Seventh Plenum Tan Ping-shan   did not agree with Roy and Trotsky.  He rejected the proposal that Communists should either revolt or leave the Kuomintang. On the other hand, the Chairman of the Chinese Commission said, ‘we are of the opinion that the relations between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Kuomintang (KMT)  must be consolidated even more than before’.

It was decided that taking into account the whole character of the development of the Chinese revolution and its perspectives, the Communists must stay within the Kuomintang (KMT) and must intensify their work in it. It was said , the KMT , despite its bourgeois–democratic character , contained the embryo of revolutionary bloc of proletariat peasantry ; and therefore the CPC  must  stay in KMT and penetrate into it  through  the Left-Wing of KMT;   and must eventually take control of the KMT , in entire.

Basically, it meant that the Chinese Commission in the Seventh Plenum had renounced ‘revolution from below’ in favour of ‘revolution from above’. And, that the uprising by the peasants must be contained and withdrawn, at least for the present.

This was totally against Roy’s stand on the issue.  He argued vehemently against such decision. Yet, the Comintern ordered Roy to proceed to China in order to ensure the right implementation of the decision taken by the Seventh Plenum.

Borodin in Nanking 1926

It is not clear why Roy, of all the persons, was asked to monitor and supervise the implementation of an order that he had passionately opposed. Further, M. M.  Borodin who had been serving as the Communist Advisor to the Kuomintang and to the Chinese Communist Party for the past four years since 1923 was already in position. Borodin was well familiar with all details of the problem and its implications. Further, he had also established contacts with the leaders and elements on either side of the question. He could very well have been asked to ensure implementation of the order issued by the ECCI at the Seventh Plenum. There was no need whatsoever to depute Roy to China, just to check on Borodin. And the irony was that it was Borodin who had indoctrinated Roy and converted him into Communism. He was thus Roy’s teacher and guide; and they had grown into good friends. Now, Roy was being sent to check on his teacher and friend.

When Roy pleaded his case and requested to be sent to India instead of to China, Stalin just asked Roy to go; and he would look into his request for India on his return from the mission assigned to him.

Perhaps , the Comintern deliberately intended to keep Roy out of India and Europe , just at the time when CPGB  was making efforts to  take control of  Communist movement in India and a lend it a new direction.


Another indicator to support the above premise (of shunt Roy away from Europe ) is that just as Roy was entering into Canton on 12 February 1927, a conference called as the Congress of the Oppressed Nationalities was being held in Brussels from 10 February to 15 February 1927. About 175 delegates from about 37 countries representing various trade unions and other communist–inspired   organizations attended the Congress.  The more prominent among the participants was Virendranath Chattopadyaya, Roy’s old rival in Berlin. One of the decisions taken at the Congress was to set up the League Against Imperialism with which another rival of Roy,  MPBT Acharya got associated. 

The Congress was significant for one more reason. It was attended by Jawaharlal Nehru, as an official delegate of the Indian National Congress.  Nehru had left India in March 1926 to accompany his ailing wife Kamala Devi to Switzerland for medical treatment. While he was in Berlin, Nehru heard of the Congress of the Oppressed Nationalities to be held in Brussels; and, asked the Indian National Congress to sponsor him as its delegate to the meet. After attending The Congress at Brussels, Nehru, also agreed to serve on the Executive Committee of the newly formed League Against Imperialism (LAI ) ; and continued in that position until end of January 1930*.

 [*Regarding the relationship between Nehru and LAI which ended in January 1930: 

When Nehru signed the Delhi Manifesto in November 1929, the Gandhi inspired attempt to seek dominion status for India in exchange for end of the Civil Disobedience. The Manifesto also called for reciprocal amnesty and freedom for political prisoners. Then LAI sent letters to Nehru calling his signing as a ‘betrayal of the Indian masses’. Nehru in January 1930 in his letter to LAI secretariat shot back:  I am afraid you have not the least notion of conditions in India; and yet you do not hesitate to lay down the law for us. The Indian National Congress has welcomed you and has agreed to cooperate with you, but it cannot tolerate the outside interference of the kind you have been carrying on”

With that, Nehru ended his association with LAI, although nothing came of the Manifesto. The events that followed proved Nehru right. Had he not signed the Agreement, the Congress would have split on the eve of the Civil Disobedience movement.]

In any event, it appears that the Comintern had already made up its mind to keep Roy away from the centre of action. Zinoviev had hinted about that in the Fifth Plenum of ECCI following Roy’s hostility with the CPGB.


Roy was assigned the task of trouble-shooting the alliance between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party which was suffering increasingly disruptive stress. But, by the time Roy arrived in China in early 1927, the events were moving rapidly and were going beyond control.  And, a totally new and an alarming situation confronted the Chinese Communists, Borodin and Roy.

On April 7 1927, Chiang Kei-shek and several other Right-wing KMT leaders held a meeting, during which they came to the conclusion that Communist activities were socially and economically disruptive and must be undone for their national revolution to proceed. And, by about the next week, 12 April 1927, the KMT decided to expel the members of the Left-wing of the KMT along with other members of the CPC from its fold.


After completing his northern expedition, Chiang Kai-shek broke his ties with the Left Wing of the KMT; and, began an onslaught on the Communists, on the streets of Shanghai.  This was followed by arrest and execution of hundreds of CPC members at Shanghai. This came to be known as Shanghai massacre.

After the bloodbath in Shanghai, landowners in Wuhan region anxiously looked to Chiang Kai-shek’s regime for support.  For, they were scared of retaliation by the communist-peasants in the Wuhan for what happened in Shanghai. They resisted workers’ strikes by closing down factories and shops. They deliberately organized runs on banks and shipped their sliver to Shanghai. In rural areas, merchants and usurers refused to lend money to the peasantry, making them unable to buy seeds for the spring months. Feudal powers joined, by shutting down their firms, while speculators drove up prices to unbearable levels. The economic collapses and rising mass movement terrified Wang Ching-wei, the leader of the Left-Wing KMT.

Following that massacre and onslaught, the gulf between the Left Wing KMT / Communists and Right-Wing KMT further widened. And, Chiang Kai-shek with his base in Canton (in South China) and Wang Ching-wei, the leader of the Left -Wing of KMT in Wuhan province (in Central China) became bitter enemies. Wang Ching-wei, in anger, therefore wanted to march against the Right -Wing forces of   Chiang kei -shek.

 Wang Ching-wei

But, in the meanwhile, Wang Ching-wei was confronted with another serious problem, at his home province, Wuhan. There suddenly was a violent uprising of the peasants in the Wuhan area, much to the annoyance of Wang Ching-wei. Some members of Left Wing KMT belonging to the peasant class were joined by members of the CPC who adopting the Communist Party line started a fight against the bourgeois landowners.  They demanded abolition of feudal landlord-system of Wuhan province, confiscation of their lands and handing over of those lands to the tillers. In many rural areas, peasant associations had, in fact, driven out the landlords and were functioning as the local authority.

But the problem was that Wang Ching-wei and most of other leaders of the Left-Wing of KMT and Army officers in Wuhan, despite their left leaning, belonged to the landowning class. Now, they had become the target of the agitation raised by their own members and followers.

The CPC was caught on the horns of the dilemma. They were unable to decide whether they should take control of the Wuhan area, support the peasants, and lead them on to a full scale agrarian revolution against the landlords in the   Wuhan branch of the Kuomintang (KMT).  Or, whether they should (for the present) suspend support to local peasants; and, now join hands with the Wuhan Kuomintang (KMT) and march  on with it to fight against the Right-Wing Chiang kei-shek.

The conflict had now opened up on many fronts; and, was indeed very complicated.


Roy, who had just then appeared on the scene, it appears, urged the Communists to support the revolutionary uprising of the peasants; and fight against the leaders of the Wuhan Kuomintang. He seemed to think that immediate campaign against the Chiang Kei-shek in the North was fraught with great danger. His argument was based on the information he had obtained that Chiang Kei-shek was threatening the right flank of the Wuhan forces, while its left flank was also vulnerable to attack. The basic position of Roy was that the Chinese Communists had two options: either to support the peasants’ demand on the land or to retard the agrarian revolution. But, supporting peasants demand right then would lead to confrontation with Wuhan Kuomintang.

But, Borodin, Roy’s friend and teacher from his Mexico days, who was stationed in China, for the last four years, as a representative of the Comintern, advised otherwise.  He was asking the Communists to support Wuhan Kuomintang in their march against Chiang Kei-shek. The true intention behind his argument seemed to be that Communists cannot possibly establish a firm base in China unless the proletariat take control of the situation ; and for that to happen , it was necessary to rely on Wuhan Kuomintang. The implication of Borodin’s argument was that the agrarian revolution should be deferred for the present, otherwise it would antagonise the military officers and the Wuhan Kuomintang; and thus destroy ‘revolutionary bloc’ before the Peking regime could be over thrown.

[For more, please see the very well documented M.N. Roy’s Mission to China: The Communist-Kuomintang Split of 1927 by Robert C North and Xenia J Eudin]


 Since no decision could be made on the ground, the issue was referred to Moscow seeking instructions.

On 1 June 1927, Roy received a telegram from Stalin containing his instructions. And, that worsened the confusion.

Stalin instructed that both the courses should be followed at once – that is to support the agrarian revolution and also to support Wuhan Kuomintang. Stalin had made it clear that the support to the Wuhan group was to be only a temporary expedient. He had said “The leadership of the Left Wing Kuomintang must be freshened and reinforced by new leaders who have come to the fore in the agrarian revolution. It is necessary to liquidate the unreliable Generals immediately…Organize a revolutionary tribunal headed by prominent non-Communist Kuomintang. Punish officers who maintain contact with Chiang Kai-shek… The scoundrels must be punished. If the Left-Wing Kuomintang do not learn to be revolutionary Jacobins, they will be lost both to the people and to the revolution.”.

The flaw in the instructions conveyed by the Comintern’s telegram was that the support for the Kuomintang and the support for the agrarian revolution were conflicting, mutually exclusive policies.  The Chinese Communists, left to themselves, might have chosen one course or the other. But the attempt to do both was a sure recipe for disaster. It also showed how little did the Comintern understand what was actually taking place on the ground. It also did not foresee the difficulties inherent in bringing together ‘the revolution from above’ and the ‘revolution from below’.   It also showed how the Communist leaders in Moscow and in China were working at cross-purposes.

In any case, soon after the receipt of the telegram, Borodin who had greater influence with the Chinese Communists, because of his long association with them, asked them to withdraw their agitation and support Kuomintang (KMT) of Wang Ching-wei. And, they had agreed to abide by Borodin’s advice.


But, the events that followed overtook Borodin and even the left wing of Wuhan branch of the Kuomintang.

 Roy read out the substance of Stalin’s telegram to the Chinese Communists (CPI). It is said; they were totally bemused and did not know whether to laugh or to cry at the fairy tale from the overseas. They all agreed that what the Russians had asked to do did not make sense; and cannot be carried out.

Roy then thought that Wang Ching-wei the leader of the Left Wing KMT, which is Wuhan branch of the Kuomintang, would perhaps be able to convince the Communist Party of China.  Roy was also hoping that Wang Ching-wei could be persuaded to follow the mass revolutionary way if he was assured that Moscow will back him up fully.

When Roy discussed the issue, Wang Ching-wei wanted to see the telegram from Moscow. Roy then committed an act of utter indiscretion for which he was later blamed and virtually hounded out of the Communist Party. Roy showed Stalin’s telegram to Wang, who in turn showed it to his followers (who were already in touch with the Right- Wing leader Chiang Kei-shek). Therefore, within about an hour, what was till then a secret instruction from Moscow became common knowledge and spread among all sections of the Chinese conflict – right, left and centre.

Wang Ching-wei consulted his colleagues and followers to decide upon the future course of their action. Wang understood that he was one among the ‘unreliable generals’ referred to in the telegram. And, he debated within himself that   even if Moscow were to support him for the present, he surely was marked for ‘liquidation’ eventually. He realized that his position in the Soviet camp was temporary, vulnerable and highly insecure.  The Wuhan Kuomintang leaders (most of whom were landlords and army officers) also, by then, realized that they had more in common with Chiang Kei-shek than with Russian backed Communists. Wang Ching-wei then decided that it would be wiser and safer for him to make peace with Chiang Kei-shek at Nanking; to dismiss the Russian advisors; and, to expel the Communists from KMT.

The two wings of the Kuomintang then became one; and together fought against Chinese Communists.  The Communists, of course, lost all sectors of the battle; its troops were disbanded; thousands of its fighters were arrested; and many were executed.  Trade unions and peasants unions affiliated to Communist Party were destroyed. The Chinese Communist Party was outlawed. And Martial Law was declared against Communists and all communist affiliated units.

As John Chan writes :   “on July 15, Wang Ching-wei formally issued an order demanding all communists leave the KMT or face severe punishment. Like Chiang, it was Wang who squeezed the CPC “like a lemon” and then cast it aside, unleashing another, even more brutal, wave of repression against the communists and the insurgent masses….

The Kuomintang’s “white terror” lasted for years. From April to December 1927, an estimated 38,000 people were executed and more than 32,000 jailed as political prisoners. From January to August 1928, more than 27,000 people were sentenced to death. By 1930, the CCP estimated approximately 140,000 people had been murdered or had died in prisons. In 1931, over 38,000 people were executed as political enemies. The Chinese Left Opposition was not only hunted down by the KMT’s police, it was also betrayed to the authorities by the Stalinist CCP leadership.”

Thus, victory of the counter-revolution, very swiftly, was almost complete;  for the time being.

The duo of Borodin and Roy having nothing more to do were, mercifully, allowed to escape. After being in hiding for some time, Borodin with help from Wang Ching-wei boarded a special train from Hankow on 27 July 1927. Roy also thereafter, on 8 August 1927, left Hankow.  After crossing the Gobi desert by car, he caught the Trans-Siberians railway to reach Moscow.  In the end, both Borodin and Roy banished from Wuhan and had to return to Moscow crestfallen.


Roy’s mission to China was a disaster. He was blamed for his colossal blunder of sharing Stalin’s telegram with Wang Ching-wei.  Some went even to the extent of calling him a betrayer to the cause. Thereafter, his stock in the Comintern plummeted, leading ultimately to his expulsion. 

There were also a few who defended Roy’s position. Yes, the Chinese mission was indeed a failure they too agreed. But, they pointed out it was not the failure of the individual; it was in fact the failure of the system. The fault, they argued, basically was, in the Comintern policy and in its decision of preserving Kuomintang alliance at the cost of the just emerging Chinese Communist Party.  The Comintern had in fact sacrificed the Chinese Communist Party for its own reasons. And, it would not be right to blame Roy for the inevitable failure of Comintern’s faulted policy.

It was also said that the leadership of the Wuhan Kuomintang (inclusive of Wang Ching-wei) had already decided, as advised by the Christian General Feng Yu-hstang, to dismiss the Russian advisers and suppress the Communist Party in the interest of the unity of all nationalist forces. Thus, Wuhan Kuomintang, in any case, would have done whatever it did, regardless of the telegram for Roy. There is therefore no need to blame Roy.


[Given the blunders that Comintern committed in 1927, it is indeed a wonder that Communism could even have a presence in China. Ironically, in a way of speaking, it was the quick and hurried exit of the Russian communists and advisors that helped Communism to take root and to succeed in China.

Mao Zedong in 1927

The failure of the Kuomintang uprising had marked the end of the revolution in the urban centers. Those CPC leaders, who did not join the Left Opposition such as Mao Tse-tung   , fled to the countryside. Mao, whose political outlook had more in common with peasant populism than with Marxism, emerged quite naturally as the new leader.

Before joining the Communist Party, Mao had been deeply influenced by a Japanese Utopian socialist school, ‘New Village’. The New Village advocated collective cultivation, communal consumption and mutual aid in autonomous villages as the road to “socialism”. This “rural socialism” reflected not the interests of the revolutionary proletariat, but the hostility of the decaying peasantry towards the destruction of small-scale farming under capitalism. Even after joining the Communist Party, Mao never abandoned this orientation towards the peasantry.

The withdrawal  of the Russians from the scene  made room for Mao Tse-tung   and  offered him  complete  freedom to form his own army , his own police force, and  to build his own  political institutions ; as also to work out his own special  mixture of varied indigenous and revolutionary  tactics and  elements ‘ from below’ as also those from ‘above’ . The Chinese Communism is thus a result of its indigenous effort.  The Communist movement in China has therefore stood independently on its own and has flourished regardless of the vicissitudes in the fortunes of Communism in Russia.

Mao Zedong meets with Snow again in Yan'an in 1939.

About nine years after the Russian-Kuomintang  fiasco , it appears that Mao Tse-tung in a conversation with Edgar Snow,  the American journalist noted for his books and articles on Communism in China  called Borodin a ‘ blunderer’  who in 1926 favored radical distribution of land among peasants ; but , in 1927 he completely reversed his position  opposing his own earlier stand of 1926. Borodin was just an official obeying orders and eager to please his bourgeois masters.

As regards Roy, Mao Tse-tung called him ‘a fool’ who just stood and could only talk; and he talked too much, without offering any method of realization.

As per Mao’s analysis, it was Chen Tu-hsin the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who was most responsible for the failure and defeat of the peasants’ revolution; Borodin who completely reversed his stand between 1926 and 1927 was next; and, Roy who just stood and talked was the last.

But, although Mao called Roy a ‘fool  … who just stood and talked and talked’, his method of creating a mass proletariat movement and rising agrarian revolution was much similar to the one that Roy had been advocating all along. ]



Roy left Hankow for Moscow on 8 August 1927. On his arrival in Moscow Roy had more troubles waiting for him.

 While he was in China, a delegation of Indian Communists in Moscow submitted a complaint to Comintern charging Roy with exaggerating the size of the Communist apparatus in India and with misappropriation of Comintern funds.


But, the major trouble was that while Roy was away in China, Stalin had dispatched his trusted confidant fellow Georgian Vissarion Vissarionovich Lominadze to check on the situation there. Lominadze was appointed Secretary of the Communist Youth International in the spring of 1927; and later was made a full member of CPSU Central Committee.  He had a voice in Comintern affairs; it was also well known that he enjoyed the confidence of Stalin; and therefore Lominadze was very powerful person indeed in Comintern.

Stalin had sent Lominadze to China because he did not trust Roy or Borodin. Lemonade’s mission in China, initially, was to find some remnants of the Kuomintang left-wing leadership still willing and able to allow a communist fraction to operate within the Kuomintang.  During about the same time, Stalin had also dispatched a young German named Heinz Neumann to South China to look for some stray communist elements who could stage an urban uprising .

Both, Lominadze and Neumann reported back to Stalin saying that leaders of the Kuomintang ,  the Chinese Communist Party  and Roy had messed up things in China; and communists were lying low unable to create to any trouble  for the bourgeois .

Lominadze complained that many mistakes had been committed in the recent past by the personnel of the Comintern and the Central Committee (CC) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) particularly with regard to Chinese revolution. Lominadze charged that the CC of the CCP had committed ‘serious errors of rightist opportunism and had violated the directives of the Comintern’. He demanded that an Emergency Party Conference be convened as soon as possible to reorganize the party leadership.

Lominadze convened an Emergency Conference, starting from 7 August 1927 (that is a couple of days before Roy’s return to Moscow from China) with the object of correcting mistakes and re-organizing party leadership.

Trotsky (Lev Davidovitch Bronstein)

What was really happening in Moscow was an on-going power struggle within the Comintern. Stalin was intent on eliminating all trouble-makers and potential rivals. Roy returned to Moscow where factions supporting Trotsky and Lenin’s former ADC Grigory Zinoviev were busy fighting with Stalin.

 [Earlier during 1926, Grigory Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev and few others had come close to Trotsky’s supporters in forming what was known as The United Opposition. Stalin who was annoyed with splinter opposition groups had sent threats to Trotsky. And, Trotsky, then, had made tactical retreat, mostly to preserve his alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev. Though the United Opposition was formally ‘out’, it did still exist; and, Stalin was intent on wiping it out clean. In 1927, Stalin started using the GPU (Soviet secret police) to infiltrate, harass and discredit the opposition. Some were expelled from the Party and some were arrested.

Trotsky kept on criticizing Stalin’s economic policy which opposed rapid industrialization and collectivization in agriculture. Stalin had then used Bukharin to rebut and undermine his chief rivals—Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinovyev, and Lev Kamenev.

But, with failure of his attempts in Germany, Trotsky came under attack. Bukharin and Roy had stood by Stalin against Trotsky. They were promoted in the Party hierarchy.

And, earlier at the ECCI, on the question of alliance with Kuomintang, Trotsky and Roy had opposed the proposal. But Bukharin had argued for the proposal; and Stalin agreed with Bukharin.

 Thus, there were many un-settled issues that had to be straightened out.]

The Emergency Conference was held at time when Stalin was seeking to consolidate his power. He needed to sideline and subdue Trotsky who was still airing his opinions about Stalin’s economic policies. Now, Trotsky using the failed policy of the ECCI on Chinese Revolution was attempting to pin the blame on Stalin.

The Emergency Conference would not have been convened by Lominadze unless it had Stalin’s sanction. In fact, Stalin, on 8 July 1927 had warned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to correct the fundamental errors of the Party as per the directions of the ECCI.

At the Emergency Conference, Trotsky committed the indiscretion of blaming Stalin for approving the Kuomintang-policy that was bound to fail.

Roy sprang to the defense of Stalin, shielding him against the charges made by Trotsky. Roy placed the entire blame for the failure of the ‘China-Mission’ with Kuomintang and on the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CPP). Roy supported Stalin, justifying his decision. (The plain truth was that Roy along with Trotsky had earlier opposed Stalin’s proposal).

[In October 1927, Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev were expelled from the CPSU.

Trotsky, after being expelled from the International Communist Party in November 1927 was exiled to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan on 31 January 1928. He was then expelled from the Soviet Union to Turkey in February 1929. Trotsky continued in exile to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. On Stalin’s orders, he was assassinated in August 1940 while he was exiled in Mexico.

 As regards Grigory Zinoviev who was at one time the head of the Communist International for a fairly long period, was forced out of the Politburo and the Comintern, in 1927. Zinoviev remained politically inactive until October 1932, when he was expelled from the Communist Party. In 1935 he was arrested, secretly tried for “moral complicity” in the assassination of the party leader Sergey Mironovich Kirov (December 1934), and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The following year, however, he was re-tried at the first Great Purge trial, found guilty on the fabricated charge of forming a terrorist organization to assassinate Kirov and other Soviet leaders, and was executed. ]


Roy was aware that Trotsky was right in his view. But, to say that openly would have meant facing the same fate as Trotsky and Zinoviev. Roy therefore chose to support Stalin and his policy; and wrote articles and books vindicating Stalin’s Kuomintang policy. Roy, in his writings, continued to place the entire blame for the 1927 debacle on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); and totally absolving the Comintern and Stalin of any responsibility.

Roy, lucky to scrape through the Emergency Conference did not stay much longer in Moscow. And, on 3 October 1927 he left for Berlin.


[Here, I may mention about one of the tactics that Stalin employed to discredit those who he  was either afraid of;  or those he despised. He took to the then unusual propaganda weapon of wiping out the traces of his enemies from the history books; or falsifying their images in the public domain.

In his book The Commissar Vanishes, a visual history of the falsification of images as a means of propaganda in the Soviet Union, David King explores how Stalin manipulated photography to erase all memory of his victims or to vilify them. At the heart of authoritarian propaganda, he says, is the manipulating  of reality.

David King wrote that during the Great Purges, in the 1930s, ‘a new form of falsification emerged. The physical eradication of Stalin’s political opponents at the hands of the secret police was swiftly followed by their obliteration from all forms of pictorial existence’.

His book highlights classic cases of ‘now you see me, now you don’t’. It includes series of images featuring the same backdrops but with rotating casts, depending on who was or wasn’t in favor at the time.

Such propaganda, as Jemimah Steinfeld writes, did not work just on what was shown; it worked also on what was omitted. Stalin was a master of this. Long before the advent of Photoshop, technicians in Russia manipulated photos so much that they became outright lies.


For example, a photograph of 1917 shows Lenin addressing a huge crowd with Trotsky and Kamenev, at his side. But, in the doctored version, Trotsky and Kamenev are erased out.

Lenin with Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev 1920.Lenin WITHOUT Trotsky and Kamenev

Another picture showed Stalin, with Nikolai Yezhov the then chief of NKVD (Secret police), strolling  along the Moscow-Volga Canal, where Volga becomes a stretch of water. But, in the edited version circulated after Nikolai Yezhov was arrested and executed in 1939; his image was wiped out.

Stalin with Nikolai Yezhov Stalin without Nikolai Yezhov

In all such cases,’ un-persons’ were either simply blanked out; or were merged into other objects;  or were shifted around to fill such gaps.


It is said; a similar practice was followed in Mao’s China, though less creatively


Despite his tactical alliance with Stalin, Roy was vulnerable because of his association with Trotsky, Borodin and Bukharin.

Some say that fall of Roy was easy to accomplish, for he had many powerful rivals and his theories were also suspect. And above everything, for all practical purposes, Roy was an outsider.

As regards his theories that were found suspect were: (a) his skewed theory exaggerating the strength of the proletariat and deprecating the Indian National Congress, thus misleading’ the ECCI of the Comintern; (b) his thesis on the national and colonial question presented at the Second World Congress (1920) though was a Supplementary thesis, officially, yet considerable attention paid to it by the Comintern policy makers. But, the failure of the attempts to carry the revolution to industrialized countries, brought attention back to Roy’s thesis. And, in the Seventh Plenum, Roy was asked to explain; and (c) the theory that caused much discomfort to Roy was the one that came to be known as the ‘decolonisation’ thesis.

In regard to the last mentioned ‘decolonisation’ thesis:

On his return from China where the right wing forces had dealt a huge blow against the Communists, Roy was asked to review the India situation and submit a thesis. Roy stated that during the post-war period the British were forced to revise their old policy of obstructing industrial growth in India. He pointed out that a significant change was taking place in the Indian industrial scene. In his draft-thesis, Roy said “The Indian bourgeoisie, instead of being kept down as a potential rival, will be granted partnership in the economic development of the country under the hegemony of imperialism.”

The new policy, according to Roy, will encourage industrial development in India and will also expand the market for British goods and services in India. He also said, encouraged by the British move, other countries will also try to find openings in India. He also predicted that India would eventually be granted Dominion Status; and, the Indian bourgeoisies will be granted partnership by the imperialist bourgeoisies for the joint exploitation of India.

Thus he said:” A gradual advance of the Indian bourgeoisie from the state of absolute colonial oppression to self government within the British Empire is taking place. Therefore, it is not necessary for them to travel the risky path of revolution.

In other words, the progressive ‘decolonization’ of their economic and political status would make Indian bourgeoisie averse to revolution, and in the near future it would turn out to be counter-revolutionary. The transfer of some political power to colonial bourgeoisie would not weaken, because the native bourgeoisie  would come to  wield this power, not to further develop the struggle against imperialism, but to suppress the revolutionary movement… ‘Decolonization’ of the Indian bourgeoisie thus is not an illusion. It is a fact which is the key to the situation”

 This theory of Roy produced a storm. The ECCI members of the Comintern were horrified with the thesis which suggested that  industrial grown and Commerce will flourish under the benevolence of imperialism; and that there is no need for a revolution in India. At the Sixth Congress of the Communist International (1928) Knusinen accused Roy of ‘fathering a theory of decolonization’ which would gradually lead the Indian people to freedom.

Roy kept denying such interpretation; that he never meant it that way; and never did he try to show imperialism in better light. He also said, the term ‘decolonization’ was originally used by Bukharin; and it was not truly his own. And, that made it worse for Roy. He was accused of being a lackey of Bukharin who already was a suspect and was sidelined.

Another problem that the Comintern had to deal with during 1928-9 was the question of fascism that was raising its hood in Germany. The German Opposition Communists August Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler advocated joining hands with the German Social Democrats to defeat fascism. Roy also expressed his support to such joint action to bring down fascism. But, the Sixth Congress was strongly against any collaboration with the Social Democrats, even for defeating the worst form of fascism – the Nazis. Roy who supported the proposal of the German Opposition was branded and clubbed with the ‘Brandlerite Opposition’ .This together with the controversy over ‘decolonization’ contributed to Roy’s expulsion from Comintern.

When the Ninth Plenum of ECCI (9 – 25 February 1928) opened in February 1928 and when he still was a member in the good standing of the ECCI, Roy continued to be under the belief  that both Stalin and Bukharin were his personal friends. Roy tried to meet Stalin and to explain to him the true intent of his thesis. Stalin refused to meet Roy and give him a hearing at the plenum in February 1928.

It was the ‘decolonisation’ thesis that was to get Roy booted out of the Comintern. Further, Roy had the ill fortune of being championed by Bukharin, who was then chairing the Congress. Stalin, desperate to be rid of the Old Guard, allowed his apparatchiki free rein in distorting Roy’s argument, and his theses were construed to mean that the British were, for some reason,   literally de-colonising India.

[ To make matters worse for Roy, while he was still under attack ,the British Statuary Commission began considering proposals for granting  further autonomy to Indian bourgeoisie ahead of the schedule; and to offer Dominion Status as the natural ‘issue’ of India’s constitutional progress.]


When you look back and take a historical perspective, you will realize that the campaign against ‘decolonization’ and against Roy was not of much significance. But, what was more damaging to the communist cause was the directive issued by the Ninth Plenum of the ECCI to adopt an Ultra-Left policy of isolation and adventurism. That policy was amplified in the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI.

The Indian Communists were asked to break off relations with ‘counter revolutionary’ organizations like the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Leftist bodies like the Independence League (IL). They were instructed to organize mass rallies against INC and IL shouting them down as imperial lackeys and betrayers of the revolution of the proletariat.  The worse was, the Indian Communists were asked to liquidate Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) established earlier ; and to build new anti-imperial united front against Congress. The new PWPs were asked to be organised along the lines of resistance movements- centralised, illegal, and furtive. Similarly, the Trade Unions built earlier were to be dismantled and build new Red Trade Unions preparing them for a countrywide strike.

These directives, proved to be most unrealistic, disruptive and disastrous.

 It was a calamitous injunction – globally, and in India. In India, the Communists were driven into wilderness and broken into small sects.  The CPI was wiped out from effectual political process, right at the critical juncture when they were consolidating their power in the main national stream. Similarly, the new directives had equally disastrous effects in Europe, particularly in Germany. And, some historians opine that the new injunctions contributed, in some measure, to the raise of fascism and the Nazis. The Communists in Germany, under their new prescriptions, came to be looked down as worse enemies of Communism and its principles than the fascists. Because, as the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) under fresh instructions from Moscow began to split and ruin the established trade unions; and that  broke the spirit of the workers and weakened their will and strength to resist  to Nazi menace.

That policy arrived at the Ninth Plenum and amplified in the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI, was totally against the line that was developed, and followed , till then, under the guidance of M N Roy. He had devised a strategy of working along with INC, infiltrating it, influencing its policies and eventually taking control of its leadership. Philip Spratt too had followed much the same line. Although the Communist Party of India had not entirely succeeded in its scheme, its groups (covert or otherwise) had managed to infiltrate the INC, influence some of its policies and draw some Congressmen into its fold.

Roy’s aim in all this was to capture the bourgeois Indian National Congress and make it a ‘people’s’ or ‘revolutionary nationalist’ party based on a democratic programme of national independence. Historian John Patrick Haithcox writes: “Roy hoped that Indian communists would be able to duplicate the apparent success of their Chinese counterparts in working within the Kuomintang.”

 (Haithcox, Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971])

Yet; Roy had not learnt his lesson – even after the debacle in China and rebuke for his ‘decolonization theory. When Stalin launched the Comintern on its “third period” the Ultra-left turn, Bukharin and Roy opposed Stalin from the right. But, Bukharin soon capitulated to Stalin.

 [As the Nazis came to power in Germany, the views of the Comintern changed once again. The Seventh Comintern Congress , held between July 25 and August 20 of 1935 , decided to replace the tactics of ‘ class against class ‘ by the struggle of ‘ nation against nation’, in which all classes including democratic nationalist bourgeois were expected to unite in a common front against fascist powers. Those tactics were extended to the colonial countries, because of the ‘necessity to re-adjust the program of world revolution with the bourgeois democratic movement’.

In effect, the Seventh Congress went back to Lenin’s call (in the Second Congress -1920) to build alliances of communists with the national movement. The Comintern now abandoned its earlier stand of ‘ultra-left’ taken in the Sixth Congress (1928) about seven years ago . It now made a total reversal and directed that: ‘while maintaining their political and organizational independence , the communists in India must carry on active work inside the Indian National Congress to facilitate progress of crystallization of a national revolutionary wing among them.’

Roy, in a way, was vindicated. He might have been hoping that he would be re-admitted to Comintern. But, that did not happen.

As regards the Communist Party of India, the reversals, the twists and turns in Comintern’s policy did not help in reviving its fortunes, because by then, as they say, much water had flown under the bridge. Add to that, most of the active Indian communists had been rounded up and put behind bars in Meerut Conspiracy case which dragged on from 1929 to 1933; and thereafter the accused were sentenced to various periods of imprisonment. The Communist movement in India during those periods was in its lowest ebb.]



Even while the Ninth Plenum of the ECCI was in progress at Moscow during February 1928 Roy fell ill. But, he was denied a decent treatment for an infected ear (attack of mastoiditis). That truly scared Roy. However, with help from Bukharin and Borodin, Roy managed to escape from Moscow in March 1928 by boarding Berlin-bound plane of the Russo-German Airline Deruluft, under a fictitious name. But for that flight, Roy might have been shunted out to a Siberian prison. The cruel irony of it was that his friends -Bukharin and Borodin- who rescued Roy at a grave risk to themselves, were, later, condemned, arrested and executed by the order of Stalin.

Soon after the Ninth Plenum, there began a campaign for ‘enforcing discipline’ within the Party. As a part of those ‘disciplinary measures’, it was decided to throw out of the Party and Comintern all those who did not accept the new policy of shifting to the extreme Left. Under this prescription, large numbers of communist leaders were expelled, arrested and executed. Even senior leaders like Bukharin and Borodin were not spared. Roy’s rivals, taking advantage of Stalin’s need for a shift of policy to the extreme Left, pressed elimination of Roy from the Communist International.

Some surmise that action against Roy was delayed, perhaps, because the Comintern gave him some room and expected him to recant, to apologize and to send a note of regret. On the contrary, soon after his escape from Moscow, Roy joined hands with the Opposition Communist Party (KPO) in Berlin and started writing articles criticizing Stalin and his policies in the journals published by Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimar.

[The real reason for Roy’s expulsion could be the power struggle that was taking place within the Comintern, specially after the Fifth Congress  when Stalin was trying to consolidate his position by ruthlessly eliminating the old gourds of the Bolshevik revolution. With the support of the Left-wing Bukharin, he successfully sidelined and banished the Right-wing Trotsky; and, ultimately eliminated Bukharin too. 

Roy from his early days in Comintern had aligned himself with the Left-wing Bukharin regarded as ‘the theoretical authority, next only to Lenin.’  With the rapidly changing developments in International Communism, following the Chinese debacle, Roy and Bukharin came together to form a central position.  Meanwhile, Stalin had shifted his stance to extreme Left. Roy and Bukharin had to be expelled, by necessity, as they might oppose Stalin’s ultra-left policy adopted in the Sixth Congress in July/August 1928. Roy writing articles in the journals of the Opposition Communist Party of Germany , only made it easier for ECCI.]

But, for some reason, action against Roy was delayed for while, even though he was accused of being a ‘lackey of imperialism’ and ‘father of the decolonization theory’. The Tenth Plenum which met in June 1929 also condemned Roy as a ‘renegade’. But, Roy’s expulsion from the Communist International was affected in September 1929. The announcement of his expulsion appeared in Inprecor of 13 December 1929, almost simultaneously with Bukharin’s disgrace.

[Bukharin lost his Comintern post in April 1929 and was expelled from the Politburo in November 1929.]

The notice published in Inprecor of 13 December 1929 mentioned the cause of Roy’s expulsion as:  “contributing to the Brandler press and supporting the Brandler organizations.” It clearly said; ‘’In accordance with the resolution of the Plenum of the ECCI and the decision of the Presidium of the ECCI of 19 December 1928, adherents of the Brandler organization cannot be members of the Communist International. The Presidium declares that Roy, by contributing to the Brandler press and by supporting Brandler Organization, has placed himself outside the ranks of the Communist International, and is to be considered as expelled from the Communist International.”

[Heinrich Brandler (1881–1967) was a German Communist trade-union politician. After being expelled by the Communist Party in December 1928, Brandler, along with Thalheimer, set up in Germany a rival Communist Party named the Communist Party of Germany Opposition (KPO).

August Thalheimer (1884 to 1948), a journalist and theoretician,   was initially a member of the Social Democratic Party before the First World War and later formed the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) . However a during 1928, he and Brandler were expelled from the KPD; and the two together went on to form the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) , a faction within German  Communist Party.

The KPO, in its new communist opposition journal, Gegen den Storm (Against the Storm) edited by August Thalheimer started publishing articles criticizing the foreign policy of the Soviet Union; which meant criticism of Stalin.

The Comitern was properly annoyed with Brandler and his organization – the KPO. Roy contribution to Brandler – organization journal Gegen den Storm, criticizing Soviet policies, was the last straw. And with that the ECCI decided to expel Roy from Communist International.]

Roy felt that he was expelled from the Comintern mainly because of his “claim to the right of independent thinking.” Roy asserted:  ‘the crimes attributed to me, I have not committed. My offence is that I lay claim to the right of independent thinking. and this is not permissible in the present  critical period through which the Communist International is passing through.’ In a way of speaking, Roy had burnt his boats; and there was no way he could return to the official communist fold.

But Roy’s career in Comintern all along was dotted with controversies, stating with his Supplementary thesis on the colonial and national question in 1920 , just as he was entering the  portals of Comintern. He had opposed Commenter’s supporting bourgeoisie nationalist organizations.  He fought against putting the Indian Communist party under the control of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He had opposed ECCI’s decision asking the Chinese Communist Party to withdraw the agrarian revolt.  He almost always had a running-battle with Trotsky. But , his  argument  against Stalin’s extreme Left Industrial policy, just when Stalin was eradicating all rivals and establishing his sole authority in Comintern , proved to be his final undoing in the Communist Party.  Given the highly dangerous environment prevailing in the background of power struggle, it is a wonder that Roy could survive and even thrive for about eight years in the dog-eat-the-dog world of Comintern.

The break with the Comintern was, of course, a serious blow to Roy. He lost the power, prestige that he had as a member of the ECCI. He also lost the capacity to influence the India question. Yet, he went on writing articles in the Communist journals.

He then had to consider other means of being connected with India- its communism and its national independence.

More of that  In   the next part






Next Part

Sources and References

Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939  by John Patrick Haithcox

Communism in India by Marshall Windmiller

Communist and Socialist Movement in India: A Critical Account  by Chandrika Singh

In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Period”  edited by Matthew Worley

 M N Roy – apolitical Biography by  Samaren Roy

M N Roy by V B Kulkarni

Political Philosophy of Rammanohar Lohia: Alternative Development Perceptions by K. Gopinath Pillai

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

M.N. Roy’s Mission to China: The Communist-Kuomintang Split of 1927 by Robert C North and Xenia J Eudin

Mao: The Real Story by Alexander V. Pantsov, Steven I. Levine

Mao Tse-tung in Opposition, 1927-1935 by John E. Rue, Hoover Institution on War

Political Philosophy of M.N. Roy by Prakash Chandra

Modern Indian Political Thought: Text and Context by   Bidyut Chakrabarty, Rajendra Kumar Pandey

The tragedy of the 1925-1927 Chinese Revolution – Part 3 by John Chan 

All pictures are from Internet




Posted by on January 16, 2016 in M N Roy


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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 been 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 realize 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 30th January 1925) Roy and Evelyn were arrested in Paris, due 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 21st 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 (Executive Committee of the Communist International)  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 Workers and Peasants Party (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  the Comite’ Pro-Hindou, a group headed by  Henri Barbusse  which  did propaganda work in favor of Indian Independence. Evelyn Trent, who was in France, was guiding the activities of 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)  organized at Amsterdam on 11th and 12th 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 25th  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 20th 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 25th  December 1925. Most of the members involved in this effort belonged to the Roy group.

The organizers of the Cawnpore session of the INC however refused permission to conduct the Communist meeting within the pandal 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 25th  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’ than 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 or 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, he wanted to  influence the liberal Congress members through his writings in the journal; and also to send 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 wages 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 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 with 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 of 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.

The 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’ were 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.]



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 31st 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 that 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 30th 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  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.]




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



Posted by on January 16, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 11

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 11

Continued from Part 10

 Communism – India – Nationalism


After his return from Tashkent, Roy was shifted to Berlin as it was thought that it would be easier for him to maintain contacts with India.

Berlin in those days was a sort of headquarters for many Indians living in Europe.  It was also the hub of Indian revolutionaries. There were diverse types of revolutionary groups operating from Berlin. The more active among those included the one led by Virendranath Chattopadyaya; and, the other was the one led by Barakatullah, the former foreign minister of Raja Mahendra Pratap’s provisional government that was set up in Kabul during 1915.  The two groups were opposed to Roy for various reasons. When Roy shifted to Berlin they made a common cause to attack Roy and to challenge Roy’s leadership of the Indian movement. But, by about early 1922, Chattopadyaya and Bharkatullah fell apart.

However, Roy still had to contend with the competition from Chattopadyaya, who perhaps was also receiving encouragement and financial support from Russia. Abani Mukherjee who was earlier with Roy moved over to Chattopadyaya along with S N Kar (who had recently arrived from USA). Bhupendranath Dutta however distanced himself from both Roy and Chattopadyaya.


Roy, while he was in Berlin, devoted much of his time to writing, editing, publishing books and journals. Here he was able to re-edit, complete and publish (in 1922) his India in Transition , the work on which he had begun about two years ago.  In 1922, he also started publishing a bi-monthly paper titled The Vanguard of Indian Independence, organ of the émigré Communist Party of India, the stated   objective of which was to spread socialism in India. The paper was brought out regularly until 1928. During this period, the title of the paper was changed several times.  Roy and Ellen (under her pen name Santi Devi) wrote articles calling upon Indian masses and nationalist leaders to adopt more effective lines of struggle and to align with workers and peasants.  

With the assistance of seamen, Roy began to send the Comintern’s International Correspondence (Inprecor) and Vanguard to India. Vanguard was a success and influenced many in India and Moscow. And, that did not go un-noticed by the British agencies. It is said; some   Indian newspapers, in one way or the other, conveyed the substances of the articles appearing in Vanguard. Such Newspapers included: The Ananda Bazar Patrika and The Atma Sakti of Calcutta; The Independent of Allahabad; and, The Nava Yuga of Guntur (then in Madras Presidency). And, in Punjab, Gulam Hussein, Shamshuddin Hassan and M A Khan brought out a journal in Urdu titled Inquilab (revolution) , which mostly reproduced Roy’s articles.

Roy, by 1922, had also setup contacts with the correspondents of pro-soviet newspapers such as The Socialist (Bombay) and Langal (Calcutta).



Roy was also trying to establish contacts with socialists and communists in India. Among the earliest of them was an erstwhile follower of Gandhi now turned Socialist named Sripad Amrit Dange who in 1921 published a pamphlet called Gandhi Vs Lenin. And, from August 1922, Dange also started publishing a fortnightly English magazine called The Socialist, perhaps influenced by Roy’s Vanguard. These two publications attracted the attention of Roy as also of the Comintern. In the later years, SA Dange grew into a prominent Communist leader in India.

The other members that Roy was able to contact and influence were: Muzzaffar Ahmad in Calcutta; Gulam Hussein in Lahore; and, Singaravelu Chettiar in the Madras region. Shaukat Ali who had graduated from the University of Toilers of the East at Moscow was already engaged in Party activities under instructions from Comintern.

By the autumn of 1922, Roy had been able to put in place groups in five major cities, which gave a foothold to communism in India. But, the groups were scattered; and their understanding of Marxism and world communist strategy was elementary; and were also not trained in Party work. Though the movement was amorphous, it showed signs of potential to grow.

Of the five groups the one in Bombay led by SA Dange was more active, because of Dange’s organizing ability and financial support from his patrons (including RB Lorvala, an industrialist of Bombay). Under the patronage of Dange and Lotvala, library and hostels were set up in Bombay for students of Marx and to those who ‘dedicated themselves to labour work’. In August 1922, Dange , with financial help from Lotvala,  started an English weekly The Socialist.

The British agencies in India were watching the activities of the groups.


Through his journals, Roy was also trying to appeal to groups and individuals, within the Indian National Congress, aligned to Socialism and its ideologies. And, he was also trying to influence the liberal Congress members. At the time of the 37th Annual session of the Congress held at Gaya during December 1922, The Vanguard acknowledged that the Congress was ‘the leader of the movement for national liberation’; and, appealed to the Congress to adopt a liberal economic program designed to raising the living standards of the poor workers and peasants.  The Vanguard pointed out that a political party cannot be relevant without a sound economic program. It is only by working for economic betterment of the masses, it said; the Congress could hope gain their support in the struggle for independence. It is only then, it emphasized, that Congress movement would become a truly nationwide mass movement.

 Roy kept harping on this theme in his subsequent writings also.


The Congress in the 1920’s was a collection of heterogeneous assorted splinter groups, though the central aim of the organization was to attain national independence. The general plan of Roy during 1922 was based on two elements (as outlined in The Advance Guard, a new name for The Vanguard): First, to form opposition groups or blocs, within the INC, of members who subscribed to Communist way of thinking. And this group should try to capture the party leadership. The other was to influence the congress members having liberal socialist views and draw them towards his ideas, and if possible into the Communist fold.

In his letter to SA Dange (2 November 1922), Roy outlined the strategy. It cautioned that the opposition blocs to be formed within the INC should be composed of respectable, law–abiding persons; and, such blocs should have a ‘non-offensive’ name without in any manner suggesting a link to Communists.  But, such a bloc should be controlled only by members dedicated to Communism and Socialism.

Roy also emphasised the need to have , in addition, an underground apparatus that would carry out ’illegal activities’ that would covertly support the ‘legal blocs’ within the INC.


CR Das 2

Among the eminent individuals in the Congress Party, Roy identified C R Das- Deshbandhu Chitta Ranjan Das (5 November 1870 – 16 June 1925) – as ‘most promising’. C R Das, a much respected leader from Bengal was in 1921 the President-elect of the Indian National Congress Party. He was known for his liberal, humanitarian views, sympathetic to the poor Indian masses.  He argued for the economics upliftment of the masses; and, their greater participation in the national movement. And, shortly before the Ahmadabad Congress Session of 1921, the British Indian police arrested and imprisoned C R Das for his nationalistic activities (but, truly on suspicions of his links with leftists). The British Intelligence in Calcutta had tracked ‘Roy’s agents’ in Bengal supplying Roy’s newspaper articles to C R Das. And, some of C R Das’s speeches sounded similar to the line taken by The Vanguard and The Advanced Guard. He was released in July 1922.

The other Congressman Roy had in view was: Sampurnanand an influential Congress leader from United Provinces (UP) who had included in his ‘Memorandum on the Congress Program’ some ideas taken from Roy’s articles. But, Sampurnanand   was not a socialist and much less a communist. And, therefore, that channel did not eventually work out.

The other was Singaravelu Chettiar, a prominent Congress member from Madras. He considered himself a Communist; and was in contact with Roy. He did work to spread Roy’s ideas among other Congress members.


The 37th Annual Session of the Indian National Congress at Gaya which commenced on 26 December 1922 was considered a crucial session. Prior to the session there were widespread debates between the followers of Gandhi and the admirers of CR Das on the form that non-cooperation movement should take.  The debates had actually started in February 1921 and had gathered pace after Gandhi suddenly called off the non-cooperation campaign following the violent turn it took in Chauri Chaura.  The debate at Gaya Congress eventually focused on whether the Congress should participate in the ensuing elections to the Legislative Councils. Gandhi insisted that Congress should boycott elections, while CR Das urged Congress to participate in the elections.

Few weeks earlier to the Gaya session, CR Das had declared: “I do not want that sort of Swaraj which will be for the middle-classes alone. I want Swaraj for the masses, not for the classes. I don’t care for the bourgeoisie. How few are they? Swaraj must be for the masses, and must be won by the masses.” (Speech at Dehra Dun, November 1st, 1922)

[Please click here for the full text of the Presidential Address of Desabhandhu  C. R. Das at the thirty-seventh session of the Indian National Congress held at Gaya on 26th December 1922[

CR Das believed in non – violent and constitutional methods for the realisation of national independence. In the economic field, Das stressed the need of constructive work in villages. A champion of national education and vernacular medium, he felt that the masses should be properly educated to participate in the nationalist movement.

Prior to the Session, in the autumn of 1922, Roy in his Advance Guard had outlined his economic program for the Indian masses.  It included some of the following  ideas: 1) Abolition of landlordism 2) Reduction of land rent 3) State aid for modernization of agriculture 4) Abolition of indirect taxes 5) Nationalization of public utilities 6) Development of modern industries 7) Eight hour day, fixation of minimum wages by legislation 8) Free and compulsory education 9) Separation of State and religion .

Roy was keenly looking forward and waiting to see how his ideas planted in the blocs and in C R Das would emerge in the session. He viewed the Gaya Congress as a test of the acceptance or otherwise of his ideas by the Congress. He was almost sure that his program would be rejected. And, that would prove Congress was not really Red.

At the Gaya Congress, CR Das, just released after six months of imprisonment, was elected the President of the Indian National Congress. CR Das tried to give a new orientation to Indian politics. He supported elections to the Legislative Councils; but, suggested through his Council – Entry programme, i.e. ‘non-cooperation from within the Councils’; with the object of “ending or mending them. He however met with vehement opposition from the Mahatma and the no – changers. His motion on Council-entry was rejected by a two-thirds majority; and CR Das resigned from the presidency.

[Among the Communists who attended the Gaya Congress were SA Dange, Singaravelu Chettiar and Mani Lal Shah.]

Before that showdown with Gandhi and his followers, CR Das had warned Congress on the dangers of not accepting resolutions of Labour reforms. C R Das thundered: if the Congress fails to do its duty, you may expect to find organizations set up in the country by Labourers and Peasants, detached from you, disassociated with the cause of Swaraj, will eventually bring within the arena of peaceful revolution class struggles and the war of special interests.

If the object of the Congress be to avoid that disgraceful issue , let us take Labour and the Peasantry in hand, and let us organize them both from the point of view of their own interest and also from the point of the higher ideal and  special interests devoted to the  cause of Swaraj.’

[CR Das, clearly, was warning of the impending Communist insurgence and dangers of violence it would bring along.  His perception of Communism discouraged or even frightened him; and, prevented him from supporting Communist Party.]

The Gaya Congress approved the organization of Indian labor “with a view to improve and promote their well-being and secure them their just rights, and also to prevent the exploitation of Indian labor and Indian resources.” This resolution was passed unanimously; and, a Committee on Labor Organization was appointed “to assist the Executive Council of the All-India Trade Union Congress for the organization of Indian labor, both agricultural and industrial.”  A similar resolution had earlier been passed by the Congress two years ago at Nagpur, but nothing came of it.

CR  Das’s  repeated  insistence on the importance of attaining “Swaraj for the masses and not for the classes,” which raised such a clamor in the British and Indian Press, led to his being stigmatized as “Bolshevik.”

Later in 1923,  Roy in his “Open Letter to Mr. C.R. Das and His Followers” wrote :— “There are but two ways ahead: reversion to the Constitutional Democracy of the Liberals, or adoption of more revolutionary methods.—Either Mr. Das will soon have to abandon his original position in favour of the Responsive Co-operation of the Mahratta Rationalists, or he will have to part company with them in order to organise the third party inside the National Congress—the party of workers and peasants, which will infuse vigour into the national struggle by means of revolutionary mass action.” (Open Letter to Chittaranjan Das and His Followers, by M.N. Roy, Zurich, February 3rd, 1923)

[For more, please see the article written by Evelyn Roy at:]

Thereafter, on 9 January 1923, C R Das organised the Swarajya Party within the Congress in collaboration with Motilal Nehru and others. The Swarajya party gained tremendous success in Bengal and the central provinces and won majority seats in the legislative councils (1924). Through the efforts of the Swarajyists,   Maulana Azad was elected President of the Congress Special Session at Delhi, where the programme of Council – Entry was approved. The programme was later confirmed at the Cocanada (now Kakinada) Session in 1923.

 With the death of Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das in 1925; and, with Motilal Nehru’s return to the Congress in the following year, the Swarajya party was greatly weakened. From 1935 onward, the Swarajya Party ceased to exist.

On the death of Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das on June 16th, 1925, Subhash Chandra Bose in ”The Indian Struggle” , while paying homage to the departed leader draws comparison of him with Gandhi ; and , mourns the loss a courageous leader :

Deshabandhu was nothing if not fearless. He was conscious of his exact role, namely that of a practical politician, and he was therefore never afraid of courting unpopularity. He was conscious of his exact role, namely that of a practical politician, and he was therefore never afraid of courting unpopularity.

In contrast with the Deshabandhu, the role of the Mahatma has not been a clear one. In many ways he is altogether an idealist and a visionary. In other respects, he is an astute politician. At times he is as obstinate as a fanatic; on other occasions he is liable to surrender like a child. The instinct, or the judgment, so necessary for political bargaining is lacking in him. When there is a real opportunity for a bargain, as in 1921, he is liable to stick out for small things and thereby upset all chances of a settlement Whenever he does go in for a bargain, as we shall see in 1931, he gives more than he takes. On the whole, he is no match in diplomacy for an astute British politician.

Today, as we look back on the year 1925, we cannot help feeling that if Providence had spared the Deshabandhu for a few years more, the history of India would probably have taken a different turn. In the affairs of nations, it often happens that the appearance or disappearance of a single personality often means a new chapter in history. Thus has been the influence of Lenin in Russia, of Mussolini in Italy and of Hitler in Germany in recent world-history.

And alas, in that stroke of bad luck we were deprived of Deshbondhu and given instead the much less lucid and strategic Gandhi…


The Gaya Congress was a clear failure for Roy.  His glorifying violence as the means for attaining independence and mass revolution had frightened the Congress leaders most of whom were respectable, well educated middle class gentlemen.  In March 1923, Roy wrote in The Inprecor:’ we sought to strengthen the hands of the Left Wing but only succeeded in frightening it’.

[Roy was also referring to the role of the WPP – Communist members placed within the Indian National Congress. Yes; the WPPs were able to carry out ideological propaganda which spread even to the members of the INC.   But, the problem was that WPP members placed within the INC overdid the role assigned to them by Roy. They began talking rather loudly criticising Gandhi and his non-violence policy.  Further, their talk about class struggle, armed violence etc was against the Gandhi and the Congress way of thinking. It also frightened many congressmen. Their priority was national independence, achieved through the Gandhian way. Though they did manage to arouse the thinking of some members of the INC, the WPP members were alienated from the majority.

That indiscretion of openly taking an anti-Gandhi stand undid the whole effort of placing the WPP- Communist members within the INC. It defeated the very purpose of gaining the goodwill of prominent socialist minded Congressmen like Nehru and Subash Bose. ]

Apart from the WPP, Roy did try to reach out to his former friends and co-revolutionaries of the Jugantar; exhorted them to adopt social revolution as their goal; and to the Indian masses for an intensive Class struggle. The Jugantar group, after long discussions in a meeting presided over by Jadugopal Mukherjee, decided that their prime aim was the liberation of the Mother Land; and would  seek aid and co-operation of all  classes in their fight against British imperialism ; and , not exclusively from the Communists. They also did not seem to be interested in ‘class-struggle’, as that would mean fragmentation among their support-forces. The decision was communicated to Roy, and that virtually marked the end of Roy’s association with his· erstwhile comrades

Thus, though Roy could popularize the ‘communist ideology’ in India, and could form communist groups, it cannot be said that his efforts really succeeded in utilizing the Indian situation and spreading it further.


Roy thought now was the time to change tactics and tracks. He reasoned that an open assault was better than covert manoeuvres. On February 15, 1923, the Advanced Gaurd again became The Vanguard, carrying the sub-title ‘Central Organ Communist Party of India’. The main aim of his plan now was not so much as to infiltrate the Congress, but to build a vibrant Communist Party – working within the Congress and without it – which would eventually capture the leadership of the entire national revolutionary movement.

Roy had earlier been talking about creating a mass party and blocs with ‘non-offensive’ names, to be operated and controlled covertly by the Communist party.  He now was intent on creating the Communist Party on Indian soil as a mass based political organization. But at the same time, he did emphasize the need to have the backup   of underground working apparatus.

According to a revised plan outlined in Roy’s Memorandum of 5th June 1923, a mass-party which would be the public face; and, it would be called Workers and Peasants Party (WPP); while the illegal underground apparatus would be the clandestine Communist Party (CP). And, all members of the CP would automatically be the members of WPP.

But, a formal affiliation of the WPP to the Communist International would not be possible because, technically, the WPP would not be a true Communist Party. But, the Communist Party would however maintain fraternal relations with WPP. And, the new WPP would be allowed to send delegates to the Communist International forums.

The WPP, according to Roy’s scheme, should seek working relations (alliance) with bourgeois parties like Indian National Congress, using ‘every available opportunity for striking an agreement’ to pressurise those parties to adopt policies of ‘revolutionary significance’.

Learning from his Gaya experience, Roy cautioned that the WPP (Communists) should ‘leave out controversy of violence vs. non-violence’; because that would be the best tactical move that can be made without giving lie to the real Communist program.  But, at the same time he reiterated that ’emancipation of the exploited cannot be done by peaceful and non-violent means’.

[The above strategy which was said to have been conveyed by Roy to the Indian communists in his letter dated 30 December 1927* created a stir in India. The letter or the forgery of it leaked to the Indian Government was produced before the Central Legislative Assembly on 6 September 1928; and, it came to be called by the name ‘Assembly letter’. The letter, among other things,  also mentioned about the British Communists who had been covertly operating in India. In order to throw out such British, the Government introduced the Public Safety Bill of 1928. The Bill was opposed by the Congress and other sections of the Assembly, though none among them was a communist.  The Bill was not passed by the Assembly. But, the Viceroy in the special powers vested in him promulgated an ordinance of the Public Safety Act.

*The letter of 27 December 1927 clearly seemed to have  been a forgery, because by then , Roy had virtually been taken out of the India-region ; and the Communist Party in India had come under control of Communist Party of Great Britain  (CPGB).] 


But, in most of 1923 and 1924 the communist movement was crippled by series of arrests of all suspected of leftist illegal activities.

This period was distressful to Roy in many ways. Lenin, his mentor and protector, was seriously ill following an attempt on his life. In December 1922, Lenin suffered a second stroke that paralyzed his right side. He then had to withdraw from all political activities. In March 1923, he suffered a third stroke; and, it ended his career. Lenin was mute and bed-ridden until his death but officially remained the leader of the Communist Party. Lenin died on 21 January 1924, aged 53, at his estate at Gorki settlement (later renamed Gorki Leninskiye).  Lenin’s exit from Comintern was a huge  setback to Roy.

And, that was also a difficult time for Roy in Germany. He learnt that   Germans were about to round up and expel all Communist party workers.  He also got the clue that he was about to be arrested. The German Government, had in fact, been acting under British pressure; and, it issued an order for Roy’s arrest.  But, Roy managed to flee from Germany before the arrest order could be executed; and escaped to Switzerland.  In September 1923, from thereon Roy went on a long tour of Europe visiting Marseilles, Paris, Genoa and Amsterdam searching for a safe location to set up headquarters and publish The Vanguard

After escaping from Germany and after his long tour, Roy chose Zurich, Switzerland to take shelter. In January 1924, Roy started publishing The Vanguard from Zurich. But, that lasted only for two months; and the last issue of Vanguard published from Zurich was that of 1st March 1924.

From Zurich , Roy addressed a letter (dated 20 February 1924)  to Ramsay Macdonald , the British Prime Minister , enquiring  if he could be granted amnesty  for his early terrorist activities committed in India;  and,  if he could be granted permission to return to India. Tle long letter ended with the request :

 “To give me the permission to return to India without becoming the object of persecution for alleged offences committed in the past. I should draw your attention to the fact that my political views have undergone a radical change since I left India in 1915.

What I solicit is an amnesty from the alleged charges made against me in the past. I suppose the declaration made by His Majesty the King-Emperor in 1919 concerning Indian political offenders can be applicable to me. When I return to India I will of course, be prepared to take the consequences of my action in  future.

I will appreciate it very much if I am given the passport to come over to England, there to discuss with the India Office the question of my return to India.”


This was before the Cawnpore Case came up for trial in India on 27 February 1924. After he came to know of the Cawnpore Case in which he was one of the accused, Roy realized that all his chances of safe return to India had burnt out.

Roy then, after March 1924, promptly shifted the headquarters of Vanguard from Zurich to Annecy in France, from where Evelyn managed the paper.   The Vanguard was again shifted to Paris. Roy himself went back to Moscow. And, between March and June 1924 Roy went into exile in Europe. But, he appeared in Moscow to attend the Fifth Comintern Congress commencing from 17 June 1924.

At the Fifth Congress, Roy was elected as the full member of ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) and a Candidate member of its Presidium.  By the end of 1926, Roy was elected as a member of all the four official policy making bodies of the Comintern – the presidium, the political secretariat, the executive committee and the world congress.  It was the highest position that Roy held in the Comintern.

The ECCI directed that the national liberation movement in India must be reorganized on a revolutionary basis; forming a National Peoples’ party comprising the urban-petty-bourgeois, the poor intellectuals, the small clerks, the rebellious peasantry and the advanced workers. It should be an establishment of proletarian class party. The ECCI did not however specify whether the ‘National Peoples’ party’ should be formed within the Indian National Congress or separate from it.

The ECCI directed that Indian Communist Party must bring trade union movement under its influence. It must reorganize it on a class basis and must purge it of all alien elements.




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


Posted by on January 16, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 10

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 10

Continued from Part 09


Tashkent mishap

 After the Second World Congress of the Communist International, the revolution was to advance eastward; and, yet its heart was in Europe. Chicherian, the Soviet Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, told Roy that ‘the revolution must spread eastwards; a second front of the world revolution must be opened in Asia’. He assured Roy that the Soviets are prepared to promote and support his struggle, in every way, against the colonial oppressors. He also informed him that great deal of preparatory work had already been done by the Soviet embassy at Kabul.

Soviet Turkistan and Afghanistan in 1922

Afghanistan, strategically situated along many trade and migration routes, and sitting at the the southern edge of the Russian empire and poised adjoining the North West Frontiers of India, has been , throughout the history ,  regarded as the gateway to India from the West. Over the centuries, all imperial powers have tried to take control of this Central Asian region to gain access to India. 

By the time of 1920 , at which time Roy was in Russia, two Afghan wars had already been fought during the 19th Century ( 1839-42; and 1878-80) in which the British in India had fought to extend their control over Afghanistan to oppose Russian influence there.

Afghanistan had, thus, been the main prize in the Great game played between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russia, since Afghanistan bridged the Central Asia with British India. Afghanistan and the North West Frontiers of India had been the customary battle ground between the two Imperial powers.

In 1907, confronted with the common enemy, the Germany, the imperial powers of Russia and Britain suspended their squabbling and entered into an Anglo-Russian Entente, settling their rivalry in Central Asia and in Persia. And, Afghan region was placed within the British sphere of influence.

But, after the war and with the success of   the October Revolution, the equations between the British and the new Communist Government in Russia were disturbed. And, the terms of relation between British Empire and the Bolshevik were altered.

And, in the meanwhile, the new Emir Amanullah Khan (1919-29) of Afghanistan who took power in Feb-Mar 1919 began to favor the reformist minded young Afghan movement. Within about two months of his becoming the Emir, Amanullah Khan , adopting a turbulent attitude,  denounced the existing  treaties with the British ; opened negotiations with  Soviet Russia; and , called upon the Muslims in India to wage ‘holy war’ (Jihad) against the British rule.

Following a three week conflict, called Anglo-Afghan war, Amanullah Khan pleaded for peace with British. He entered into a peace agreement (Treaty-of-Rawalpindi-August-1919) with British,  acknowledging the British authority over the tribal belt of NWF Province. British let Amanullah Khan rule Afghanistan; but cut all types of subsidies. The treaty was later amended in 1921.

Before signing the final document with the British, the Afghans had concluded a treaty of friendship with the new Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. Afghanistan thereby became one of the first states to recognize the Soviet government and a “special relationship” evolved between the two governments. 

(That lasted until December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; and, that proved to be the death knell of USSR. And, that also gave birth to the dreaded terrorist organization, the Taliban.)


Although the British had won the Afghan War of 1919, its British Indian army was exhausted from the heavy demands of World War I; and, British relations with the local tribal troops had also collapsed. Six to seven hundred of the erstwhile Khyber Rifles chose to move away from British ; and, turn into soldiers of fortune.

With so many foot-loose-discharged solders wandering around the troubled areas, the Soviets saw a window of opportunity to recruit such restless elements, with a view to gaining control over the tribal regions of Central Asia.

Further, according to their calculations, an independent Afghanistan and an independent Persia had diminished the British influence in the area; and this crack in the wall was indeed an opening for a possible anti-British nationalist movement. That alluring prospect attracted Bolsheviks to Kabul, again.

After the conclusion of the Second World Congress of the Communist International, at the suggestion of Borodin, it appears, there was a move to appoint Roy as the Ambassador of USSR in Afghanistan. That was intended to give Roy a credible tactical lever and immunity from British police to carry out his revolutionary ventures against the British rule in India, from across the borders of India.

The  grandiose plan of the ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) ; and its Central Asiatic Bureau (CAB)  was to support Amanullah  and to raise an army of Indian liberation soldiers  in Afghanistan.  It was hoped, the discharged Khyber Rifle troops and the recruits from the Muslims in India   and the anti-British Pathan tribes would join the fight against the British in India.

Roy estimated that the British Indian Army exhausted after the long and strenuous War would have no zeal or strength to withstand the attack by his rebel Liberation Army. And, it was fondly hoped that the rebel army would occupy territories of Northern India and set up a government there. The newly formed government would support Indian liberation movement. As the ECCI saw it, M N Roy would be the central figure of that grandiose scheme.

Roy again began seeing visions of carrying arms into India to fight the British rule; but, this time thorough the North West instead of the North East corner of India.

However, the proposal to send Roy as the Ambassador of USSR in Afghanistan did not materialize; because of the sudden change in the political situation in Afghanistan.  Emir Amanullah of Afghanistan who was till then entertaining anti-British notions, suddenly turned pro-British. As a result, the splinter groups of Indian revolutionaries who had sought refuge in Afghanistan were asked to stop their anti-British activities and leave the country.

Though the Afghanistan plan fell through, the Soviet Foreign office had not altogether dropped the idea of using Roy for rising rebellion in the East. Roy was co-opted into a small bureau of five members, called Mali Bureau set up by the ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) ; and , Roy was asked to get involved with the activities of its Central Asiatic Bureau (CAB) charged with the responsibility of for forming policies for the liberation of the oppressed people of the East. Roy was informed that two prominent Russian members of (CAB) – Sokolnikov and Safarov – were already stationed in Turkestan; and that Roy should take over as the Chief of the military operations to be launched from Tashkent.

According to the geophysics of the Soviet Foreign office, a blow struck at British in India would inflict a serious setback to British power in Asia; and inspire anti-imperialist revolts from Syria to China in the East. And, that would set the East ablaze.


In the mean time, the Khilafat movement, a Pan–Islamic political protest campaign launched by the Muslims in British India broke out. The attacks on Turkey by Italian (1911) and Balkan (1912-13) forces as also the defeat of Turkey in World War I had caused severe unrest in Turkey. That was worsened by the Treaty of Sevres which not only detached all non-Turkish regions from the empire but also gave parts of the Turkish homeland to Greece and other non-Muslim powers. This was viewed by the Muslims as an attack on Caliph the Sultan of Turkey who was also the religious head of worldwide Muslim community; and as an attack on Islam itself.

In a meeting held in Switzerland, the Pan-Islamic Khilafat leaders declared that England was the only serious common enemy of Islam and Bolsheviks. And, therefore the union between the two was inevitable.

In India, a campaign in defense of the Caliph was launched, led by the brothers Shaukat and Muhammad Alī and by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The leaders joined forces with Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement for Indian freedom, in return for his support of the Khilafat movement.

 [The movement ended in disaster. Gandhi unilaterally suspended the CD movement after the Chauri Chaura incident; and, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the new leader of Turkey, abolished the Khilafat as he thought it to be outdated and superstitious. Indian Muslims were doubly disappointed and the history of Hindu-Muslim partnership in fighting for India’s independence was never the same again. The Muslim disillusionment with Congress also sowed the seeds of partition and creation of Pakistan.

Alistair Phillip, who worked at British Army (2005-2010) writes:

“Many believe the Khilafat Movement (1919), a protest by Indian Muslims against Turkey’s abolition of the Caliph, religious leader of the Arab world, to be the first step towards India’s Partition. Gandhi spearheaded this movement; but, failed to realize that the Pan-Islamic idea cut at the very root of Indian nationality. What did the movement achieve?

“First, Muslim fanaticism secured a position of prestige in Indian politics; thereafter their religious loyalty took precedence over national loyalty.

Two, the Muslim population hitherto divided among various groups and political pulls now became a solid force.

Three, a new fanatic leadership riding on the crest of the Khilafat wave came to wield the reigns of the Muslim leadership.“‘

All those who wish to know the underlying thoughts behind Partition should read Dr. B R Ambedkar’s book Thoughts on Pakistan back to back. The blame lies with all sides ]

Many young Indian Muslims under the influence of Pan–Islamic had come to believe that it was their religious duty to refuse to live under the rule of an infidel who did not protect their religious rights ; and, they should go on Hijrat (emigrate) and launch a Jihad (holy war) against the infidel rulers. These Mujahirs (emigrants) had also participated in the ‘Provisional Government of India ‘set up in Kabul during 1915 by the revolutionary adventurer Raja Mahindra Pratap, Muhammad Ali, Rahamat Ali Zakaria .


A faint echo of the Khilafat movement reached Moscow to encourage the view that Pan–Islamic movement was a revolutionary force; and, as such should be welcomed and supported as an alley of the proletarian world revolution.

For Roy, the Tashkent Bureau of Comintern offered an opportunity to realize his fond dream of raising a liberation army to march against the British.

Roy, in his Mexico days, wrote how he had ‘learned to attach greater importance to intelligent understanding of the idea of revolution’ the propagation of which was’ more important than the arms’. But, now, he again went back to the assertion that: ‘India will never be able to free herself from English rule by the goodwill of those same rulers. The only method is bloody revolution, however desperate this appears in the present circumstances.

In the Central Asiatic Bureau (CAB) , at  Moscow , Roy  advocated a plan for organizing a liberation army on Soviet Turkistan and march with it against the British in India to free the country , using at the same time the support of the militant tribes of the North West Indian frontier .

Roy expected to raise a nucleus of Indian Liberation Army at Tashkent by imparting military training to Muslim Muhajirs who left India because of the British stand against the Caliphate of Turkey. This force was to be further strengthened by drawing recruits from the tribes of North West frontier regions of India. The army was then to march into India to occupy some Indian territory and set up Soviet Republic.  The new Soviet Republic was to give a call to launch a revolution and also a socio-economic program to attract the Indian masses. Roy had estimated that the British power in India, after the War, would have grown weak and it would not be able to withstand attack from North West.

Lenin, surprisingly, allowed Roy to pursue his plan of leading a military expedition through Afghanistan to liberate India from the colonial British rule. Perhaps, Lenin meant to combine Roy’s plan to strengthen Pan-Islamic rebellion against British with his own strategies. Lenin, however, advised Roy to wait for Stalin’s opinion. But, Roy could meet Stalin only by about the summer of 1921, by which time it had all come to an end.

[ When Roy first met Stalin, the latter was a sick person , about to undergo a major surgery. As Roy walked into the presence of Stalin , he was accosted by a sharp question, almost rebuking him. Roy writes :

“So, you do not see the revolutionary significance of Pan-Islamism?” I was staggered by the directness of the question. On my protesting that I had not come to discuss politics with a dangerously sick man who was to undergo a major surgical operation the next day, he laughed and reverted to the point. I inquired how he knew of my opinion about Pan-Islamism. “From Ilyitch” (amongst his close associates, Lenin was so referred to). 

 In the first meeting with Stalin, I avoided joining issues. My object was to get a first hand measure of the man.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the general exchange of views was interrupted by a secretary who entered the room to deliver a message from the Chief Surgeon of the Kremlin Hospital. 

Borodin made a sign: we must go, Comrade Stalin required rest. The latter sat up to shake hands ; and, with the peculiar Stalin grin said: “We must meet again as soon as this operation business is over.”]


In the late 1920, Roy was despatched to Tashkent to organize the Indian Revolutionary Army. With him, he took two trains, each with twenty-seven wagons loaded with weapons, ammunition and military supplies; ten wagons of dismantled airplanes; and, a supply of gold coins, British Pound and Indian Rupees. He also brought with him the staff for a military training School.

With such elaborate plan and preparations, Roy reached Tashkent in Turkistan, in Oct 1920; and, immediately plunged into work.


But, in Tashkent, Roy had to contend with numerous practical difficulties in organizing a Communist movement in the East. It was not as easy as he had been talking very eloquently all along of establishing proletarian supremacy over national struggles.

He failed to recruit sizable number of Khilafat emigrants in Tashkent for receiving military training and ideological indoctrination. He had also to contend with competition from Abdur Rab who was also recruiting Indians for his own revolutionary group located in Soviet Turkistan. Later M P B T Acharya also reached Tashkent and joined Abdur Rab.

The young Muslims that Roy could recruit included a group of 15 college students from Lahore. They were zealots, mujahedeen, members of the Pan-Islamic Khilafat movement in India, who regarded the preservation of the Ottoman Empire and the temporal authority and spiritual leadership of the sultan to be essential to the unity and welfare of all Muslims.

In the summer of 1920, 18,000 of them had left India for Afghanistan, some of whom intended to travel to Turkey to join the army of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, organizer of the Turkish Nationalist Party. On their way some fifty of them were captured by Turkmen tribesmen in Afghanistan and then liberated by the Red Army. They were then taken to Tashkent. Many among them were amused at being designated “representatives of the Indian revolution” resisted political education; and drifted away.  Only a small number of  Muhajirs who were attracted by the staunch anti-Imperialism of the Bolshevik government as also by the idea of ending exploitation of the masses, became enthusiastic Communists and played an active role in the Communist activities , especially in maintaining links with Punjab Communists. Of these, the most important was Shaukat Usmani , who was to become a leading figure in the Indian Communist Party.

Another group of young Muslims that Roy could recruit were Muhajirs inspired by the Khilafat movement who left India to join the Hijrat Movement. They left India with the object of going to Turkey through Soviet Russia; but were ill-treated by Muslim Turkmen counter revolutionaries. Some of the Indian Mujahirs (emigrants) then joined Communists and fought the counter revolutionary Turkmen. They reached Tashkent in late 1920; and joined M N Roy’s Military school at Tashkent and later went with him to Moscow.

Roy was not successful in smuggling arms and ammunitions to the Indian rebel groups and Mujahedeen in India , because the new regime in Afghanistan was no longer co-operating with Moscow ; and, also because the North West Frontier regions were heavily patrolled by the Indian Army.

Roy also did not succeed in recruiting the religious minded Indian Mujahedeen.  This had a sobering effect on Roy; and, it led him to reconsider his ideas about the dichotomy of the national and class movement.


Although Roy was not successful in his mission of raising a Liberation Army to attack British rule in India by crossing over the North-West frontier, he was able to influence some Indian Muhajirs to become communists.

As instructed by the Comintern and the Turkestan Bureau of Comintern, Roy then went about the task of establishing the Communist Party of India. Eventually, on 17 October 1920, at Tashkent in a meeting convened by M N Roy and presided over by MPBT Acharya, the communist Party of India (CPI) was launched.

Besides M. N. Roy who was the Convening Secretary, six others who  took part in the foundation of the CPI and signed the document were:  were : Mrs. Evelyn Trent (Roy’s wife); Abani Mukherji;  Rosa Fitingov (Abani’s Russian wife), Mohammed Ali (Ahamad Hasan), Mohammed Shafiq Siddiqui and M.P.B.T Acharya .  Abdur Rab did not join the Party.

The minutes of the meeting read:

 “It adopted a resolution establishing the condition of three months’ probation period (as candidate member) for those persons who wished to join the party. Comrade Shafiq is elected as secretary. The Indian Communist Party adopts principles proclaimed by the Third International and undertakes to work out a program suited to the conditions in India.”

It was signed by MPBT Acharya as Chairman and M N Roy as Secretary.

On 15 December 1920, three candidate members who had completed a probation period of three months were accorded full membership of the party. The same meeting also elected a three-member Executive Committee with Roy, Shafiq and Acharya. The party was registered in Turkestan and recognized by the Comintern as a group with a consultative vote during the Third Congress of the International in 1921.

The letter dated December 20, 1920 addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkestan, said: “It is hereby testified that the Communist Party of India has been organized here in accordance with the participles of the Third International. The Indian Communist Party is working under the political guidance of the Turkestan Bureau of Comintern.”

Though the CPI was launched successfully, it was not a smooth sailing. Virendranath Chattopadyaya objected to Roy setting up CPI in Tashkent and demanded its dissolution of ‘Roy’s ‘party’. In the meanwhile, the smouldering mutual hatred between Roy and Acharya flared up. Acharya denounced Roy’s leadership and demanded his expulsion from the Party.

According to the minutes of this meeting of the Turkestan Bureau, Central Committee, Russian Communist Party and Bureau, Communist Party of India, dated December 31, 1920:

“The conflict took place between members of the Indian Revolutionary Committee, Comrades Roy and Acharya, on grounds of disagreement of question of methods of work among the Indian émigrés in Tashkent. Comrade Roy proposes to leave with the Revolutionary Committee the charge of the work outside the country (USSR) and entrust the work among émigrés inside the country to the Turk Bureau of the Comintern. In this way, Comrade Acharya, remaining in the revolutionary committee (Indian), has to conduct wide underground work and the question dividing the members of Revolutionary Committee, therefore, ceases to exist at the moment. Comrade Roy is ready to abide by the decisions which would be taken in the present meeting, and suggests that Comrade Acharya continue to stay in the Revolutionary Committee.

Comrade Acharya considers it necessary to remove Comrade Roy from the work in the Bureau of the Comintern and the Indian Revolutionary Committee as he has lost popularity among the Indians”.

Following their dispute, Roy and Acharya were asked by the Turk-Bureau of the Central Committee and the Communist Party of Turkistan, on 31 Dec 1920, to go to Moscow and resolve their disputes there.

Because of the internecine squabbling between rival groups, the CPI at Tashkent could not function effectively. And, it was considered more prudent to form a Communist Party on the Indian soil.


The formation of the CPI was followed by the establishment of an Indian Military Training School in Tashkent.

The Indian Military Training School at Tashkent in October 1920 lasted only a few months before it was disbanded in May 1921 along with the Central Asian Bureau of the Comintern.  Following Roy’s departure from Tashkent and the winding up of the military school, its Indian trainees were sent to Moscow to study at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East.  The task of directing revolutionary activities in Central Asia was transferred to the newly formed Eastern Commission of the ECCI in Moscow.

communist university of the east

The Communist University of the Toilers of the East, known in Russian as Kommunisti Cheskii Universitet Trudiashchikhsia Vostoka (KUTV) was established on 21 April 1921, following a decree of the All Russian Central Executive Committee. The decree stipulated that the KUTV was to be located In Moscow and was to be under the jurisdiction of the Peoples Commissariat of Nationalities which was instructed with the organization and direction of the project. Speaking on the fourth anniversary of the Communist University, Stalin explained the purpose of the University as:

“There are two lines of activity at the University: one, the purpose of which is to train cadres competent to attend to the needs of the Soviet Republics of the East , and the other, the purpose of which to train cadres competent to attend to the revolutionary needs of the toiling masses of the colonies and dependent countries; hence , the two kinds of tasks that confront the University of Toilers of the East’.


It played an important role in the ideological and political education for the Indian émigrés transferred from the Military School in Tashkent.  Many of them maintained contacts with Communist groups in India, helping them with money and materials. Of the about least twenty-one young Muhajir students at KUTV, ten tried to return to India with the object of forming a communist movement. On their way to India, they were arrested and tried in the Peshawar Conspiracy Case and convicted to various terms of rigorous imprisonment.

Some Muslim Indian revolutionaries trained in the Military School at Tashkent and in   KUTV in Moscow did manage to slip into India by late 1922. The Government of India tightened censorship and increased surveillance over such émigré. Shaukat Usmani , who was who was acting as a courier between Roy in Europe and communists in India; and, secretly circulating in India Roy’s newspapers and other writings was arrested. The British Government at Delhi instructed the Provincial Governments that “prompt and definite steps must be taken to counter M. N. Roy’s organization and propaganda and to terminate the activities of his principal followers.” Nine of Roy’s followers were tried in the Peshawar conspiracy case in 1923. The next year, in the Cawnpore Bolshevik conspiracy case, additional members of the Indian Communist Party, including Usmani, were convicted of conspiracy to organize a revolution to overthrow British rule in India. A court of appeal found the notion of a conspiracy ‘absurd and unbelievable’; and, ’ in effect the scheme had never been a serious threat to the  security of the state’ . Since the defendants had, however, acted, ‘in the most serious spirit ‘ their appeal was denied and  the convictions were upheld.

With the trial and conviction of the cadres of the Indian Communist Party, the British effectively suppressed the little that had remained of the small, irresolute, and disorganized followers of Roy. The leadership of the Communist Party of India was effectively compromised, at least temporarily, and potential followers were discouraged and threatened. Within about two years from the formation of CPI at Tashkent, the Indian Communist Party was reduced to twenty members; and,  the Bolshevik revolutionary initiative to rope in  the Muslims of southwest Asia and India  had  evaporated and ended for all practical purposes.


Manabendra Nath Ray

By about April 1921, Roy was instructed by Kremlin to close down the military school in Tashkent; to wind up his revolutionary activities; and, to return to Moscow. And, NKVD, the secret Agency as also the law enforcement agency that executed the orders of Soviet Supreme, directed diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan to have nothing to do with revolutionary elements, and ordered embassy officers in Persia to cease temporarily all political activities and their work with secret agents.

The Tashkent misadventure was wound up pretty quickly and tamely. Roy’s dreams of raising a revolutionary army and to march into India confronting the British in battles and liberating India had all come to naught. Even his military training school was shut down. The only thing that entered into record books was the founding of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent. And, that riddled with controversies and acrimony was not a happy experience, either. After the founding of Communist Party in India, the bureau at Tashkent became a mere foreign-outpost. It never had any significance.

The failure of the Tashkent venture had a chastening effect on Roy. It sobered his exuberance. It also moderated his views about the national and revolutionary movement in India.


In May 1921, Roy was summoned to appear before a Commission formed under the Chairmanship of Sebald Justinus Rutgers, the Dutch Marxist theoretician and journalist. Among the members of the Commission were Borodin and August Thalheimer, who were close friends of Roy. And, Roy also had known Rutgers when both attended the congress arranged by the Comintern Bureau at Amsterdam during February 1920. The Commission was formed to look into the allegations made against the behavior of Roy, while in Tashkent, by his Party colleges.

The complainants included Virendranath Chattopadyaya, Bhupendranath Dutta, Birendranath Dasgupta, P S Khankoje, GAK Luhani and Nalini Gupta. Abdur Rahman, Agnes Smedly and MPBT Acharya also joined them.

The Commission advised both the parties to resolve their differences amicably. But, the meet turned ugly, with shouting, swearing and hurling abuses at each other.  There is no clear report on the discussions that went on before the Commission.  There are in fact three versions of the meet: one by Roy as narrated in his Memoirs; the second by Dutta in his book, Aparakashit Rajanitik Ithihas (un-published political history) ; and, the third , in the speech delivered by Virendranath  Chattopadyaya  during 1934.

The argument of Dutta and his group was that the various classes engaged in the struggle should work together for bringing about political revolution against foreign rule. Dutta was not averse to Communists. He in fact said that Communist must be a part of the national struggle; Communist party should be organized from the base level to establish socialism; and should cause revolution. When Borodin questioned Dutta: in what way you differ from Roy, Dutta replied ‘’ Roy does not want to co-operate with nationalists for building revolutionary movements in India. From where else will you get people except from nationalists?’

The dispute was between two groups of Indians; the Communist Party set up at Tashkent was also not working; and, the cause of the dispute appeared to be mainly mutual dislike. The issue was allowed to lapse; and was buried.

I think, the dispute between the two groups could have been easily resolved, but for the subjective issues. Had not Roy dogmatically stuck to his stand of rejecting nationalism, the Communists in India , at least during the first phase of the mass struggle for national liberation in the post-war period , perhaps, had a better chance of working along with the national , revolutionary liberation movements. That was unfortunate because following the success of the October Revolution there was tremendous goodwill and sympathy for Indian liberation struggle.  And, there was also an objective basis for cooperation of the nationalists and communists. Had the two groups come together, the International Communist movement could, perhaps, have established working relationship with the Indian nationalists in the freedom struggle.



What was more interesting than the seven month long sordid episode which eventually failed  and through out which Roy fumed, puffed and sweated in Tashkent, was the tactical drama that was being played between the premier diplomats in Kremlin and London.  Roy, at that time, was unaware of any of those schemes and maneuvers.

The Bolsheviks inherited both the assets and liabilities of the Tsarist Empire. As geophysical assets, it received vast territories embracing the heart land of the Euro-Asian continent. But, it also took over a rapidly growing polyglot population, their poverty and an underdeveloped economy with almost no technology.

But the Bolshevik Government did not inherit the relations and influences that its predecessors had built over the years with major European powers like France and Germany. The Bolshevik country was essentially a poor, underdeveloped agrarian economy and alone in the modern diplomatic world of the affluent West, none of which was particularly sympathetic to the international communist movement. It badly needed to get out of that rut, develop into an industrial power, to secure recognition from foreign powers, and to wield a clout in international diplomacy. The Bolsheviks realized that the key to enter into that hallowed world of the rich and powerful was Britain which then was the most advanced industrial power having a global reach.

The other major concern of the Soviet leadership was to expand and to build an international Communist movement and to  align it with mass-based working class organizations in Europe and nationalist movements in Asia. There was also the question of the survival of the socialist republics inherited from the former Russian Empire and insulate them from foreign influences and interventions.

The problem of its own survival within the capital encirclement also became one of the main concerns of the Communists.

To achieve these ends, the Soviet leadership sought to obtain the technology of the advanced industrial countries, to construct protective zones on the frontiers of the USSR made up of stable states independent of the great powers; and, to find a secure position for Soviet Russia within the capitalist world order.

During 1920-21, the Communists changed the orientation of the Soviet foreign policy. In the preceding years the communist leaders were excessively harping on world revolution. But by 1920 that exuberance gave way to realistic appraisal of the ground-realities, as it dawned on them that revolution would take much more work and a longer time than they anticipated.

In order to overcome famine and internal strife and confusions, as also to build its defenses it needed some breathing space and aid from capitalist countries. It became necessary for Bolsheviks to build bridges across the gulf that separated them from the West. The most effective way of linking up with the West was trade, which would be mutually beneficial.

Because of the need for foreign trade, a revised diplomatic approach was required. Gone was the drive to instigate world revolution ; its own survival and viability now became the priority. Lenin eagerly  looked forward to the  possibilities  for  forging peaceful coexistence and good relations with foreign powers, coupled with an expansion in trade.

Communists badly needed to a period of peaceful co-existence to build their strengths.

Lenin , in his speech on 23 November 1920 , said : our task is to maintain the existence of our isolated socialist republic, which is so much weaker than the capitalist enemies who surround it; to remove the opportunity for enemies to create an alliance among themselves for a struggle against us.

In the same speech, Lenin also said that it was essential to re-establish trade relations though a temporary one, to re-build and to gain a breathing space (peredyshka). The breathing space, as he explained, was a sort of strategic retreat.

The aims of Soviet diplomacy in the 1920s were thus, to secure recognition from foreign powers, in order to emerge on the diplomatic scene as a fully accepted and functioning state equal to the world’s great powers, and to allow the Soviet Union the opportunity to develop economically by opening and maintaining channels for international trade. The extent to which Soviet diplomacy had to change and compromise its revolutionary aspects was central to the realignment of Soviet diplomacy during the 1920s.


It appears that the entire Tashkent expedition was played out to provoke, arm-twist and manipulate Britain to come to the negotiating table ; and to bargain in order to secure its aid for developing Russia’s infrastructure and industrial base; and, also to rehabilitate its sagging economy, to work out a pattern of close political co-operation. And that would secure for the Government born out of the October Revolution much needed stability, security, and technology; as also the  conventional commercial and diplomatic relations with the governments of the capitalist states of Europe and with the authoritarian modern nations of Asia.

The British agencies were closely following the developments at the Second International Congress held in Moscow during July-August 1920.  Its listening post in Copenhagen reported about the particular attention  given to  causing revolutions in Asia ; and said  that ‘ a general revolt in the East next autumn was being planned in order to hurry up the World Revolution, for which the chiefs of Soviet  Russia   have great hopes’.

With heightening of the Soviet activities in Afghanistan and with its intense efforts to recruit Muslim rebels to build a revolutionary army to launch an assault on India, the British were very highly annoyed. Lord Curzon who then was the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1919–1924)  was outraged and sent a strong protest to Moscow, vehemently objecting to the present aim and policy of Russia in Asia to encourage and build up hostility and anti-British propaganda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It objected to Russian attempts to build centers of propaganda, a school at Tashkent and a powerful Muslim movement. All of which, Curzon pointed out, was clearly directed against British interests; and was intent on destroying the colonial base in the region, particularly in India. The Note concluded warning the Soviet Government of the serious consequences it will have to face because of its  policy in Asia, to form a “powerful united Muslim movement to deal  blow against the colonial base on which the Empire rests.

The Soviet Government offered to discuss the charges made against it, provided Britain was open to negotiate a trade deal with USSR. Lord Curzon who was earlier the Viceroy of India was fuming at Russian attempts to threaten British Empire in Asia. He was therefore reluctant to talk trade with the Bolsheviks. But David Lloyd the British Prime Minister and Winston Churchill persuaded him to take a positive look at the trade proposal and negotiate a deal with Russia , after prescribing stringent conditions safeguarding British interests in Asia.

Lloyd and Churchill advised Curzon that Britain which had just scrapped through the War was facing an unprecedented economic crisis: its industrial production was at its lowest; unemployment rates were soaring; its pre-war trade partners were in a similar rut; and, trade and economy  was  going down. They pointed out that the only industrial units working fulltime were the textile mills in Yorkshire; and, these were fulfilling Russian orders. And, if the proposal of trade negations does not go through it is very likely that the Russians might cancel their contract orders. Further, since trade agreement with Britain was vital to Russia, it surely would abide by conditions to be imposed in the trade agreement. Lloyd George, in short, advised that the way to alleviate postwar unemployment in England was through the restoration of pre-war world trade patterns. Since Russia’s trade with Britain would be mutually beneficial, Lord Curzon was advised to carry on the negations and finalize the agreement.

At the same time, Curzon was preoccupied with the Russian threat to the British Empire in Asia, and he and Churchill would agree to a trade treaty only as a way of ending revolutionary activity there.  The two, therefore, would agree to a trade agreement only in case it  ensured  a counterrevolutionary strategy combining both’ détente and intransigence’ and promoting both foreign trade and imperial security.

After a series of long and protracted negotiations, the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was finally signed in London on 16 March 1921. It was signed by Sir Robert Horne, Chancellor of Exchequer and Leonard Krasin, Peoples Commissar of Foreign Trade.

The significant paragraph from the preamble to the Trade agreement read:

‘That each party refrains from hostile action or undertakings against the other and from conducting outside of its own borders any official propaganda direct or indirect against the institutions of the British Empire or the Russian Soviet Republic respectively, and more particularly that the Russian Soviet Government refrains from any attempt by military or diplomatic or any other form of action or propaganda to encourage any of the peoples of Asia in any form of hostile action against British interests or the British Empire, especially in India and in the Independent State of Afghanistan. The British Government gives a similar particular undertaking to the Russian Soviet Government in respect of the countries which formed part of the former Russian Empire and which have now become independent.

 [Trade Agreement between His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, Parliamentary Paper, 1921, cmd. 1207, pp.2-3]

David Lloyd the British Prime minister justified trade relations with Communist Russia calling it as ‘fighting the anarchy with abundance’. He said: Russia is necessary for recovery of Europe. Russia cannot be restored to sanity by force, as events have proved. Commerce has sobering effect as well as beneficial effects. The way to help Russia and Europe and Britain is by trade – that is to fight anarchy, wherever it appears, with abundance.

 The Soviets  in their turn justified the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement  by describing it as : “ not an ordinary trade treaty with the mere object of regulating commercial operations between two countries; it was an agreement of politico-commercial character: it gave the RSFSR de-facto  recognition by the most powerful capitalist power in Europe.”

The Soviets on their part  promptly asked M N Roy to stop forthwith all rebellious activities harmful to British;  disband  all  efforts to recruit Muslim mercenaries; shut down his military School in Tashkent; and, return to Moscow immediately. And, the NKVD directed diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan to have nothing to do with revolutionary elements, and ordered embassy officers in Persia to cease temporarily all political activities and work with secret agents.

After the conclusion of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty on 22 November 1921, the Russian consulates at Kandahar, Ghazni and Jalalabad were also closed down.

Most amazingly, in a note dated 27 September 1921 addressed to the British Government, the Soviet Government completely disassociated itself with the Tashkent mis-adventure. It said that a mischievous body posing itself Third International , made attempts to finance the propaganda school for training; and for equipping of sixty-two oriental students ; and,  then for dispatching them to India  to fight the British.

[Soviet Russia and the West, 1920-1927: A Documentary Survey by Xenia Joukoff Eudin, Harold Henry Fisher; Page 186]

Thus, despite the deliberations of the Second Comintern Congress, the rhetoric of Baku, and the plans made in the Small Bureau of the ECCI, the Bolshevik Government willingly bargained away support for revolutionary insurrection in Persia and India once it  realized that  support for revolutionary activity in Central and Southwest Asia was a strategic liability rather than an asset. It had also realized by then the prospects for proletarian revolution in Europe faded and anti-Communist regimes were consolidated there. It had also by then come to realize the folly and futility of supporting Muslim national and rebellious groups.  In order to avoid such pitfalls and to establish and maintain normal relations with the leading nation of the capitalist world, the Soviets strategically  gave up, at least temporarily, supporting revolutionary groups. 

A  fallout of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was that other European countries anxious not to miss out,  not to be excluded from any trade agreements, lest they be left behind by other European powers, hurriedly entered into trade agreements with Soviet Russia. Western transportation experts came to Russia to help increase the efficiency of the old and overburdened railway system. And, the Western diplomats, expressing the new feeling of solidarity between their governments and Soviet Russia, co-operated with Russian efforts.

 But, the western diplomats , however, did not spot the link between trade and diplomacy in quite the same way as the Soviets did.


In the months between Roy’s withdrawal from Tashkent and the Cawnpore Bolshevik conspiracy trial, Soviet foreign relations developed in other directions. In October 1921 the NKVD undertook a major initiative aimed at concluding a comprehensive postwar settlement of outstanding problems affecting Soviet relations with the victors of the World War – England and USA.

In April 1922 the Rapallo Agreement was signed, sealing the Soviet-German “special relationship” that would be the lodestar of Soviet diplomacy in the years to follow. It re-established normal relations between the Soviet Union and Germany. The two agreed to cancel all financial claims against each other; and, the treaty strengthened their economic and military ties. This was the first agreement concluded by Germany as an independent agent since World War I; and, that angered its Western Allies.

As Jacobson said: Lenin brought Soviet Russia  into world politics in 1921 with a foreign policy conception composed largely of those of his pre-1917 ideas about the development of the early twentieth-century global political economy.

[For a more detailed analysis please see the lucid and interesting exposition by   Jon Jacobson in his When the Soviet Union Entered World PoliticsYou may click  the  Introduction ; and then  go down , to read the  paragraph  commencing with the lines : I argue that foreign relations were central to the political imagination of the Bolsheviks and to their actual political behavior from the day they came to power.

Please also read the Chapter : Conclusion , for more]




Next Part


Sources and References

When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics

When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics  by Jon Jacobson

 Soviet Russia and the West, 1920-1927: A Documentary Survey  by Xenia Joukoff Eudin, Harold Henry Fisher

Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947  by Shashi Bairat

Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory by Mridula Mukherjee

In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Periodedited by Matthew Worley

The Indian revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks – their early contacts, 1918-1922 by Arun Coomer Bose Top of Form


Posted by on January 15, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09

Continued from Part 08

 The National and Colonial question

1280px-SegundoCongresoDelCominternLeninKárajanBujarinZinoviev19200719 (1)

As mentioned earlier, the First World Congress of the newly found Communist International held in Moscow during March 1919 had deliberated on the National and Colonial issue. On the question of Imperial oppression in the colonies and their emancipation from slavery, the First Congress had given the guidelines, which, it is said, should be discussed and followed up in the Second Congress.

The guidelines clearly stated:

“The Comintern considers its obligatory task to establish a permanent and a close bond between the struggle of the proletariat in the imperial countries and the national liberation movement of the oppressed peoples in the colonies and semi-colonies ; and,  to support the struggle of the oppressed peoples to facilitate the final break-down of the imperialist world systems”.

The subject was again slated for discussion at the Second World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) scheduled to be held during July-August 1920, because of the importance that Lenin attached to it, for advancing the revolution Eastward.

The Communist International intent on world communism assigned considerable importance to the National and Colonial question. M N Roy, coming from Asia and India, was nominated as the Chairman of the Commission on The National and Colonial Question, under the guidance of Lenin.

Lenin had circulated his own draft-thesis on the National and Colonial Question; and had also marked a copy of his draft-thesis given to Roy with the remark Com Roy . For criticism and suggestions – V I Lenin’.

On reading Lenin’s draft-thesis, Roy began to work on his own thesis on the national and colonial questions. In the sessions of the Commission on The National and Colonial Question the draft thesis submitted by Roy as also the draft thesis circulated by Lenin were thoroughly discussed.

In the process, Roy had several meetings with Lenin separately; and also had discussions with Lenin during the deliberations of the Commission on the subject of the communist line of approach in regard to India and other countries of the East.

Lenin also went through the draft thesis prepared by Roy; and made several corrections to it in his hand.

Lenin asked the Commission to accept Roy’s revised thesis as a supplement to his own thesis; and, to present both the thesis before the Second World Congress for its consideration and approval.


Each of the two – Lenin and Roy – approached the National question and the Colonial question through his own experiences, beliefs and perspective. The two came from totally different backgrounds. And, obviously, differences were bound to be there in the views of the two. But , what was more significant , indeed extraordinary , was that V I Lenin the Supreme leader of the USSR , the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union , who was at the zenith of his political career , was prepared to listen to and appreciate  the views of  a young novice from Asia who was just gingerly stepping into the Communist Party . Lenin was far more superior to Roy in experience, political and Party stature; and was an internationally acknowledged leader of a Great nation. Had Lenin, at his preliminary meetings with Roy, chosen to brush aside the views of a rookie who hitherto was unknown , the political career of M N Roy would have ended then and there.

It was Lenin’s open-minded attitude; his patience to keenly listen to a presentation; tolerance towards an opposing view; and, the intellectual honesty to objectively assess a given position and accept it even though it differed from his own, that secured Roy a position in the Communist Party.

Roy, in his Memoirs, remarked that his discussions with Lenin were the most significant and most valuable moments of his life. He had the honour and privilege of being treated as an equal by the greatest person of his time.  ‘Had Lenin not listened to me ‘Roy said ‘I would never have been able to present my views before the International Congress’.



Lenin’s views on nationalism, colonialism etc were rooted in his beliefs and in the understanding he gained from the study of the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Georgi Plekhanov and other theoreticians , as also from his own experiences during the Bolshevik Revolution.

(a)  Even before the Revolution, Lenin had insisted that Socialists must support the movement for autonomy for the national minorities oppressed by the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Lenin had included the ‘principle of self determination ‘in the program of the Bolshevik Party.

But, some Socialist and Communist members, belonging to those national minorities, had opposed Lenin with the argument that the separatist movement in their country was led by the nationalist bourgeois; and therefore it would not have the sympathy and support of the working class. That led to controversies within the Bolshevik Party. Leading members from Poland and Baltic regions continued to disagree with Lenin even after the Revolution. They argued that his principle of ‘self determination’ had deprived the Communists and the working class in those countries the benefit of the Revolution. That was because; the bourgeois had managed to seize the political and economic power.

Although the misgivings of those states proved right, Lenin insisted on following the doctrine of Marx and Engels which supported nationalist rebellion in Hungary and Poland. It would have been difficult even otherwise (from the ground realities) not to recognize their right of separation.

An after-effect of treating nationalism as revolutionary force was the acceptance of the principle of self determination for the subject nations. Soon after the success of the revolution; and after capturing power, Lenin put that principle into practice by recognizing the right of the minorities suppressed by Tsarist Imperialism to secede from the Soviet Republic. Following that, the Bolshevik Government recognized the right of Poland and Baltic states to secede from Russia after the revolution.

In his work The Right of Nations to Self-Determination Lenin wrote:

“The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content we unconditionally support. At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeois to oppress Jews, etc, etc.”

A corollary of the policy in Europe was applied to his thesis on   the question of extending support to the liberation of the peoples subjugated by the colonial powers in Asia, Africa and the New World.

Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question, among other things, was meant to justify the old doctrinal ground.

(b) Lenin drew upon his experience of Russian revolution. Lenin pointed out that the Bolsheviks had supported the liberal liberation movements against Tsarist rule. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation, he said, has a general content that is directed against oppression; and, it is this content that we support. The ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘opposed to Imperialism, could, therefore, initially, be regarded as ‘revolutionary’. Therefore, the Communists will now have to base themselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening; and must be awakened . At this stage we are interested in building an anti-imperialist united front. The question when and what stage such ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘should be discarded would be decided, in each case, at a later time depending upon the situation.

(c) Lenin had developed a broader perceptive of revolutionary processes having lived and worked through its various stages.  The broader picture that he envisioned was the social revolution in the West as also in the East.  Lenin, in general, was in favour of a creative search for effective ways, forms and means of struggle for socialism taking along with it the national conditions. He thought that the principles of socialism , in particular situations, “ could be correctly modified, correctly adopted and applied to national and national-state distinctions”. In that wider process, he was not averse to utilizing nationalism in creating a broad based anti-imperialistic movement; and, later to take over the movement.

(d) Lenin advanced the idea of supporting the really revolutionary bourgeois – democratic (the term was later altered to: national-revolutionary) liberation forces in colonies, provided the organizational and ideological independence of Communist elements was safeguarded.

Lenin considered the rousing of the activity and initiative of the masses and the toilers , and leading them in their struggle to  realize their most urgent demands as the vital task of the Communist elements in the colonial countries.

Lenin wanted the Communists of the oppressed countries to be in the vanguard of the struggle for national liberation.

He told them:

‘you will have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening and must awaken, among those peoples in and which has historical justification “.

Lenin thus formulated, for the first time, the idea of a united front of anti-imperialism.

(e) Lenin observed that the emphasis on the basic unity of struggle of the working class in different countries, however, does not mean disregarding their nation-specific characteristics. Lenin wrote :

‘All nations will arrive at socialism – this is inevitable; but, will do so in not exactly the same way , each will contribute something of its own to some form of democracy , to some variety of dictatorship of the proletariat , to the varying rate of social transformations in the different aspects of social life’.

(f) As regards the Indian situation in 1920, Lenin took into account its nation-specific characteristics.  Lenin pointed out that the Indian National struggle was yet in its initial stage. He  contented that non-communist nationalist organizations like the Indian National Congress could , at this the early stages of the movement , for the present, be considered as progressive revolutionary force, since no viable Communist party existed in India.

Lenin believed that development of real class-consciousness depends upon party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India. Lenin, therefore, pointed out that it would take some time before Indian workers and peasants could be mobilized and organized effectively. Until then, the organizations such as Congress, Lenin said, deserved support. He said, the Indian Communists were duty bound to support such’ bourgeois liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them. As he said, there could be ‘temporary relations’ or ‘unions’ with such ‘bourgeois –liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them.

[“According to Alfred Rosmer who attended the Second Congress: ‘patiently Lenin replied to him (Roy) explaining that for a longer or shorter period the Indian Communist Party would be a small party with but few members. Initially, it would have limited resources and would not be capable of reaching out to a substantial number of peasants and workers. But, in the course of its development, it would become possible for it to mobilize large masses. The Indian Communist Party would then be able to forge and develop its organisation to the point where it would be in a position to attack the Indian bourgeoisie.”  Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller.  p. 32]


Lenin did not share Marx’s faith in the ‘spontaneous’ development of class-consciousness. He saw an essential difference between the proletariat and the socialist, meaning a class-conscious proletariat. (Spontaneity for Lenin, perhaps, meant merely a non-rational opposition to society, which might temporarily coincide with the interests of a class, but would, in the long run, oppose it.)

Lenin considered that the development of genuine class –consciousness depends upon the party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second World Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India; but there only a few scattered revolutionary groups. He opined that it would take some time before the Indian proletariat and peasantry could be mobilized.

(e)  As regards Gandhi, Lenin believed that Gandhi as the inspirer and leader of a mass movement, could be regarded a revolutionary. It is said, Lenin, at one stage, remarked: a good nationalist is better than a bad communist.

MN Roy Moscow

Roy’s approach to the National and Colonial Question was based upon his understanding of the Marx’s point of view; and his own perspective of the Indian situation mainly centered on his impressions of the Indian National Congress.

But the problem was that Roy, at the age of 28, had left India in 1915, just at the time when Gandhi returned to India after twenty-one years in South Africa. During his early years, Roy was busily engaged in insurgency; and, for most of his active years in India, he was a fugitive. He was not in any manner associated or involved with political process. His views on Indian National Congress, in 1921-22, were tinted with the impressions he had gained, while in India, as a rebellious youth.  It was also clouded by the indoctrination he received from Borodin during 1919. Borodin during his brief stay in Mexico had worked hard to liberate Roy from notions of Nationalism.

Borodin 1920

(a) In order to overthrow foreign capitalism, according to Roy, it might perhaps be profitable to make use of the co-operations of the bourgeois national revolutionary elements – but that should only be in the initial stages and with circumspection. The foremost task, according to Roy, was to form Communist Parties which would organize peasants and workers and lead them to the revolution ‘from below’ and to establish Soviets.

 [Lenin allowed ‘temporary relations’ and even unions with nationalist movements. Roy spoke of only co-operation with such movements.]

(b) In regard to supporting the colonial national liberation movement, Roy said, ‘Communist Parties should be organized, on a priority basis, with the purpose of revolutionizing the social character of the national anti-colonial movement and bring it under the control of organized workers and peasants’.

Roy also pointed out to the danger of the bourgeois compromising with the Imperialists. He feared that the bourgeois democratic might sway towards Imperialist master for reasons of safety, money or other benefits or political concessions.  He insisted that the working class should be prepared to take over the leadership at such crisis, guiding and determining the struggle for national liberation and transforming it into a revolutionary mass movement.

 (c) Roy therefore argued, the Communists should avoid any alliance with the nationalist leaders who were bound to desert the party  to join the imperialist camps in a revolutionary situation. He pleaded that Comintern should instead support only the ‘the institutions and development of the Communist movement’ and the ‘organization of the broad based popular masses for the class interest of the latter’.

 (d)  Roy was less trustful of the national bourgeois than Lenin was. He laid more stress on developing Communist Parties in less-developed areas than on supporting the existing nationalist movements

(e)  Roy extended his theory, conviction and fears to the Indian national movement. As regards the Indian situation, in his analysis of the class forces in India, Roy greatly exaggerated both numerical and ideological strength of the Indian proletariat. Estimating that India possessed five million workers and an additional thirty-five million land-less labourers and peasants , he reported to the Comintern ( although  the  Indian nationalist movement rested mainly on the middle class) the drown trodden Indian masses would shortly blaze their own revolutionary trail.

Roy claimed that ‘the real strength of the liberation movement is no longer confined to the narrow circle of bourgeois –democratic nationalists.

Obviously , at that stage , Roy  had neither  grasped nor understood the necessity of the ‘proletariat’ to unite with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ in their common  revolutionary struggle  against Imperialism for  achieving the Indian Independence.   And, while millions were marching along Gandhi in a national upsurge, Roy wrote ‘the nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses’. He again misread the situation asserting that ‘the masses are pushed on to the revolutionary ranks not so much by national enthusiasm, as by the  … struggle for economic emancipation’.

Those misinformed statements were compounded with Roy’s exuberant estimate of the Indian proletariat’s revolutionary capacity to fight, singly, for Indian independence.

 [The Nationalism, in the West, had a different connotation, than that in India.

After fighting two World Wars, Europe became weary of the sentiments and notions of nationalism.  The intellectuals as also the common people came to view nationalism as the scourge of international relations; and, took up cudgels against the real and imagined excesses of nationalism. And, therefore, the very concept of nationalism came in for much criticism. Lenin’s view of Nationalism has to be viewed in the European context.

And, yet, Lenin supported nationalist rebellion in Hungary and Poland. Similarly, he did recognize India’s nationalism as a form of revolutionary force that deserved support. That was the genius of Lenin.


The Indian nationalism, as compared to the European, was motivated by the anxiety to retain the identity of its homeland; and, to unite its people into one entity. That spirit of Nationalism was indeed essential to fight against the oppressive Imperialism, which would not allow India, willingly, its right for self-determination; and, nor be allowed to follow an independent path of development.

Thus, in the Indian context, it was the imperialism; and, its desire to dominate foreign creeds, nations or communities, and to occupy territories well beyond the “ancestral homeland”, that was the foremost threat, not only to the oppressed nations, but also to the world at large. Because of that menace of Imperialism, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, most nations were subsumed into a few empires.

In the colonial India, nationalism was an expression aspiring for national unity; and, the motivating force in India’s struggle for freedom. Thus, the naïve criticism of Indian nationalism is misplaced.

But, at that stage of his career, MN Roy was entirely consumed by Marxist theories , rather mechanically;  and, by his anxiety to build communist party in India.  He deprecated the Indian national movement. It is surprising that Roy, who in his youth believed that there was nothing inherently violent about the desire of the people of the oppressed nations to fight for freedom and self-determination, did not quite  grasp and appreciate the notion of Indian nationalism.]


[By about this time, Gandhi’s first large civil disobedience campaign had been attracting masses in India, erupting in violence. That led Gandhi to call off the massive protests. It was  just at that point when the mass movement could have grown into a full scale revolution.

Interestingly, that led to discussions and controversies , at Moscow and in India, over the merits of non-violence over revolutionary uprising. It was also a period when Marxism was discussed in India along with the tactics of Gandhi and Lenin.

When Roy, Evelyn  and other Indians such as Veerendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, their main political differences began to sprout from their conflicting assessments of the Indian political scene .Chattopadyaya was in favor of a united front of all anti-imperial forces, whether Communist or not, to overthrow the British Rule. Roy vehemently insisted on discarding the nationalist forces.]

(f) Roy argued that the Nationalist bourgeois in India were not economically and culturally different from the feudal social order. And therefore the nationalists were ideologically reactionary; and their victory would not necessarily mean a bourgeois democratic revolution.

Roy argued that in countries such as India , which are characterized as  the ‘rebel  ‘ nationalist movements,  the Comintern rather than supporting such movements should ‘ assist exclusively the institution and the development  of the Communist movement’ and the indigenous Communist parties or groups , avoiding entanglement with  such potentially reactionary  boogies-nationalist leaders. He also counseled that Comintern should devote themselves exclusively   to the organization of the broad popular masses into Communist Party , which should take over the class struggle.

Roy was making a distinction between two different types of boogies-democratic nationalist movements, with only one of which were alliance for the Communist practical.

Roy was not talking merely about the contradictions between nationalist and bourgeois –democratic movements but between different types of boogies-democratic movements.

Roy harped on the dichotomy of national and class movements, while Lenin took an integrated approach.

(g) Roy maintained that Gandhi was a cultural and religious revivalist; and he was bound to be a reactionary, however revolutionary he might appear politically.

In Roy’s view, the religious ideology preached by Gandhi appealed to the medieval mentality of masses. But, the same ideology discouraged the revolutionary urge of the masses. The quintessence of the situation, as he analyzed and understood it, was a potentially revolutionary movement restrained by reactionary ideology”.

He quoted back to Lenin, his own dictum: without revolutionary ideology there could be no revolution.

(h) Roy, during 1921-22, believed that organizations like Indian National Congress would eventually betray the revolution; and, Gandhism would collapse. Instead, he argued, the Indian peasantry and working class must be mobilized and brought under Communism.   And, the liberation of India would be realized through the political movement of workers and peasants, ‘consciously organized on grounds of class-struggle’. He predicted that liberation from Imperialism would only come under Communist leadership. [This was despite the fact that the International Communist movement, by then, had not forged any credible link either with the Indian nationalists or with the Indian masses.]

[Thereafter, between 1920 and 1927, Roy wavered from time to time in his assessments of bourgeois-national’s relationships with the British and with the Indian masses.

As regards the Congress his views too were later revised. After his arrival in India in 1930-31, Roy had the opportunity to witness things directly; and that led him to a new understanding. He saw that all the big trade unions were under the leadership of Left-oriented reformist Congressmen. The political consciousness of the peasantry was nothing but adoration of Gandhi, the Mahatma; and, no mass movement could be organized in opposition to Congress. At the same time, the Congress provided a platform for the oppressed and exploited classes , as also to the radically inclined  petty bourgeois . But, the absence of an organized Left-wing provided an opportunity to the Right-ring to take over the leadership; although all classes and sub-classes were represented in the Congress. That again proved Lenin’s dictum right: ‘the revolutionary Party is where the masses are’. The Congress in 1930s was the rallying ground for the masses in India.  The Indian National Congress , according to him  in 1930s,  was ‘ a coalition of the classes’ which meant that it was bound to be dominated by one class or the other]

(i) As regards the impact of the Asian and Indian revolutionary movements, Roy went back to his revolutionary mode; and, declared that the mass revolt movement in Asia, India in particular, was  very crucial to the success of the revolutionary forces in the West.

He said:

“What I learned during several months of stay in Germany about the conditions in Europe and their immediate perspective fostered in me the feeling that the proletariat in the metropolitan countries would not succeed in their heroic endeavour to capture power unless imperialism was weakened by the revolt of their colonial peoples, particularly India”.

Roy asserted that the revolutionary movement in Europe depended on the course of revolution in Asia. He explained, the super-profit that the Imperialists earned from the colonies was the main stay of their capitalistic regime. Here , Roy was  applying the lessons he learnt from Rosa Luxemburg’s book Accumulation of Capital, which said ‘the imperialist capitalist system survived and thrived on external markets of colonial countries’.

Accordingly , Roy argued : “Without control of vast markets and vast areas for exploitation in the colonies” .. “ the capitalist powers of Europe could not maintain their existence even for a short time”.

[In a way Roy also differed from Marx. The traditional Marxist thought held that the proletarian revolution would first in the industrialized metropolis of industrialized countries and then spread to the agrarian masses in the colonies. Roy’s program was that Communist organization should be built by mobilizing masses in the rural areas of the colonies from which the industrialized capitalism drew its strength.]



When we glance through the views of Roy and Lenin as outlined above, some distinctions stand out.

Roy was close to Marx’s position before 1848 when Marx had looked forward with a great zeal towards the European Revolution which erupted in 1848. But, he had overestimated the strength of the working class and their class consciousness to rise up spontaneously.  Later, such exaggerated view was termed as the Maximum program.

Subsequently, Marx moderated his earlier position into what was called the Minimum program. It was meant to remove obstacles, in the way to eradicate capitalism, as a pre-requisite before launching full scale class warfare.  It sought to bring it into open the social grievances and solidify class divisions; undermine religious and patriotic sentiments, beliefs in reforms and such other ideological blinkers; and create social unrest and total chaos.

The Maximum program was to follow on its heels. In these programs the bourgeois is initially strengthened and then overthrown.

John Patrick Haithcox in his very well written book Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939, explains :

“In a sense, the conflict between Roy and Lenin over the question of supporting colonial nationalism can be viewed as the disagreement over the relative weight to be given to a maximum and minimum program in formation of colonial policy. At the time of the Second World Conference, Roy was young and impatient. Like Marx of 1848, he tended to underestimate the task of effectively mobilizing class unrest. Roy wanted to force the pace set by Lenin in order to liberate the masses at once and for all from the oppressive relationships , both foreign and domestic’’.

I think where Roy erred was in mechanically applying the Marxist idea of ‘ the hegemony of  the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution’  to the Indian situation without entering into the heart of it. Lenin, I think , had a better understanding of the democratic ( national) and social stages in the unfolding of the revolution.


It would not be correct to say that Lenin compromised his approach to the question of nationalism. Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question reiterated the principle of self determination.

The only change that Lenin agreed to make in his thesis was to substitute the words ‘national revolutionary’ in place of ‘bourgeois democratic ‘movement.

Lenin in his draft thesis (point 11) said: The Communist International, must enter into a temporary alliance ( soulz) with the bourgeois  democratic liberation  of the colonial and the backward countries. It must not , however , amalgamate with it . It must retain its independent character of proletarian movement even though it might be in the embryonic stage.

In the final draft, the first sentence of this point was altered to read:’ The Communist International must be ready to establish relationships (soglasheniia) and even alliance (soluzy) with the ‘national-revolutionary liberation’ movements of the colonies and backward countries.

The substitution of the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”, was done to emphasis the Marxist support only for genuinely revolutionary liberation movements. Lenin went on:

“In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.” (The Report of the Commission on The National and Colonial Questions, 26th July 1920)

Lenin did not agree with several of Roy’s views, such as:

Lenin did not agree with Roy’s overestimated numbers and strength of the peasants and working class of India during 1920’s.

Lenin also differed from Roy’s views on the Indian National Congress and the role of Gandhi in the National movement. Lenin asserted that since there was no Communist party in existence in India, at that early stages of the national liberation movement, for the present, the Indian National Congress be considered as progressive revolutionary force and supported.

He also felt that Roy had gone too far in linking the destiny of the revolutionary west to mass movements in Asia.


Lenin went through the draft thesis submitted by Roy; made numerous changes, with his hand, before approving it (not mere verbal alterations as claimed by Roy).

Lenin asked the Commission to accept Roy’s thesis (as revised by him) as a supplement to his own thesis.


The Commission on the National and Colonial Question, under the guidance of Lenin, also went into analysis of the class structure in the colonies.

The discussions in the Commission brought out the class structure in colonies  , broadly , as :  (a) Imperialists , feudal rich, militarists; (b)  national bourgeoisie;  (c)   petty bourgeoisie ; (d)  rich peasants; (e) middle peasants ; and (f) poor peasants , proletariat. 

The hopelessly ‘reactionary ‘within this classification were at (a) and their natural allies along with their followers such as the rich peasants and middle peasants. The national bourgeoisie as at (b) were perceived as opposed to imperialism, and therefore revolutionary at first – though for a short period. As regards the petty bourgeoisie as at (c) they remained essentially ‘wavering’. But in colonies like China the vast revolutionary masses would largely consist of poor peasantry; and , they could be  counted to support the revolution ; the leadership of the movement would ,however, be with the proletariat.

Against this class analysis, the fundamental question was to what extent and for how long should Communist Party, as the vanguard of the proletariat, alley itself ‘from above’- with the anti imperialist and non- communist national and petty bourgeois; and how much of its energies and resources should be devoted to enhancing the power of the proletariat and peasantry from ‘below’.

While collaborating with the middle- class nationalists in the colonies, Communist leaders were expected to make every effort to arouse and organize the working masses and peasantry and move towards taking control of the existing revolutionary movements. Thus, Revolution, in short, must embody a judicious balance of tactics ‘from above’ and ‘from below’.

The problem again was to strike a balance between  ‘ the revolution from above’ and ‘the revolution from below’.

On the question of at what point should the ‘revolution from above’ change to ‘revolution from below’ no specific guidelines were given.  But, it was said, the change would depend on the situation and it would generally take into account three factors: (1) the class structure; (2) the stage of development of the nationalist movement; and, (3) the relative strengths of the bourgeois and proletariat forces within the country in question.

According to the first two conditions : The support for the  bourgeois -nationalist  movement would be inadvisable in case the bourgeois sub groups , deemed reactionary, capture the leadership or should the national bourgeois sensing victory over the imperialists begin to panic at the prospect of unleash of  class struggle.

In either case the national movement would cease to be revolutionary and lapse into reformation.

As regards the third, it would be folly to be subordinate to the bourgeois should they take control of the movement and take leadership.


The report presented by the Commission on the National and Colonial question was discussed in detail in the Fourth session of the Second Congress of the Communist  International, on 25 July 1920.  And the discussion was carried forward to the Fifth session held on 28 July 1920.

Lenin made lengthy speeches in defence of his thesis as also that of Roy with certain amendments.

There were rather lively debates on this question  (National and Colonial question ) in the commission, not only in connection with the theses signed by me, but still more in connection with Comrade Roy’s theses, which he will defend here, and to which certain amendments were adopted unanimously.

The question was posed as follows:

Are we to accept as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of development of the national economy is inevitable for those backward nations which are now winning liberation and in which a movement along the road of progress is to be observed since the war? We replied in the negative. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat conducts systematic propaganda among them, and the Soviet governments come to their assistance with all the means at their disposal – in that event, it would be wrong to assume that the capitalist stage of development is inevitable for the backward peoples. In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ Soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.

What means are necessary for this cannot be indicated beforehand. Practical experience will suggest this. But it has been definitely established that the idea of Soviets is close to the hearts of the mass of working people even of the most remote nations, that these organizations, the Soviets, should be adapted to the conditions of the pre-capitalist social system, and that the communist parties should immediately begin work in this direction in all parts of the world.”


Referring to the distinction between different types of bourgeois–democratic movements and after commenting on that all nationalistic movements can only be bourgeois – democratic in nature, Lenin observed:

 “  It was argued that if we speak about bourgeois–democratic movement all distinctions between reformist and revolutionary movements will be obliterated; whereas in the recent times, this distinction has been fully and clearly revealed in backward colonial countries’’

Lenin explained it further , by elaborating :

“Very often , even in the majority of cases perhaps, where the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries does support the national movement, it simultaneously works in harmony with the imperialist bourgeoisie ; i.e, it joins the latter in fighting against all revolutionary movements and all revolutionary classes’.

In the National Colonial Commission this was proved irrefutably. And we came to the conclusion that the only correct thing was to take this distinction into consideration and nearly everywhere to substitute the term ‘national-revolutionary’ for the term ‘ bourgeois –democratic’ .

The meaning of this change is that we Communists should , and will, support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonial countries only when these movements are really revolutionary , when the representatives of these movements do not hinder us in training and organizing the peasants and the broad masses of the exploited in a revolutionary spirit”

Lenin reported the discussion in the Commission to a plenary Session of the Congress and recommended adoption of both the thesis. Regarding Roy’s thesis, Lenin said, it was   ‘framed chiefly from the standpoint of the situation in India and other big Asian countries oppressed by British imperialism. Herein lies its great importance for us.’

After considerable debate, the Second Congress sought to resolve the argument by approving both the thesis – the main thesis by Lenin and the supplementary thesis by Roy.



This was Lenin’s first systematic guideline for promoting communist revolution in Asia. And, Roy played an important role in formulating Comintern policy on the national and colonial question in 1920.

Roy’s views on the revolutionary potential of the Indian masses and proletariat was moderated in the later years,. Yet; the Roy –Lenin debate has some significance. It marked the first significant attempt within the Comintern to formulate a policy which would successfully merge the revolutionary aspirations of the nationalist-anti-colonialism and communist anti-capitalism.

But, the question just did not go away. It kept coming back again and again starting from the Chinese question in 1927. And thereafter too, it repeatedly appeared during the cold war era. 

Disagreements over the degree of support to be given to nationalistic leaders as opposed to indigenous communist parties continued to plague the Communist International.

The 1927 dispute between Stalin and Trotsky ; and between Roy and Borodin over the China policy brought out the harsh fact that the  opposing views aired at the Second World Congress of 1920  had not been fully reconciled,

Stalin’s campaign against Trotsky and the Left opposition was followed by a struggle against Bukharin and Right Opposition.

There was bitter power struggle within the Communist International. The dispute between Stalin and Bukharin factions within the Party on domestic issues reflected on the International level over the attitudes to be adopted towards western countries and nationalists in dependent countries.


[The Comintern was rather selective in applying its principle of supporting self-determination and of the revolutionary movements in the oppressed countries in the East. For instance; the Soviet government during 1921 found it advantageous to withdraw assistance for revolution among the Muslims of Asia in order to achieve a trade agreement with England. Because,  the Anglo-Soviet political conference and peace agreement— an agreement that would resettle the international relations of southwest Asia so as to account for Soviet interests there—would  win for the new Soviet state a place of legitimacy among the great powers of Europe; and it would also help industrial development in Russia.

Further, the Russians among the party leadership felt that to use Soviet Muslims to promote national self-determination in Islamic Asia, (even if it seriously dislocated the British Empire), would only encourage a Muslim desire for national self-determination within the re-conquered Russian Empire.

The Party leadership was also very hesitant about employing the considerable Muslim forces that had joined with the Red Army against the counter – revolution in Muslim countries.

Hostility toward all religion, including Islam, and a fear and distrust of independent and uncontrollable local revolutionary movements, were  said to be the major reasons for USSR’s  unwillingness to support revolution in Muslim countries.

Trotsky, a consistent ‘Westerner’, rejected the idea of military support for Asian revolution and urged the NKID to “continue in every way to emphasize through all available channels our readiness to come to an understanding with England with regard to the East.”

The Party theorists, mainly Trotsky, analyzed that, support for revolutionary activity in Central and Southwest Asia would become a strategic liability rather than an asset once the prospects for proletarian revolution in Europe faded and anti-Communist regimes were consolidated there.

For more, please check When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics by Jon Jacobson]


During the cold war period, the decisions reached by a Soviet or Chinese Communist leader depended, mainly, upon the relative strengths, potential strengths and popular support for nationalist movement in comparison with the local communist party. It also took into account at what point the nationalist leader will balk at Communist policies and pressures and move away to the other side.

Even in the case  of the Governments of  the revolutionary leaders like Nasser, Nkrumah and Sukarno , the problem that Soviets and the Chinese faced was not so much as  to decide whether  or whether not to support national revolutionary movements ; but , to agree upon priorities of initiatives and relative allocation of men , money, arms and other resources  between the local communist parties and between the Governments in question.

By then, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China were drifting apart, after the death of Stalin in 1953.The USSR was slowly shifting towards the policy of class collaboration instead of the policy of class war. The Chinese did not appreciate the shift.

The attitude of the Soviet and Chinese Communist parties towards the Indian Communist Party on the one hand and the Congress Government of India on the other was also within those parameters. . The divide between the Soviet and the Chinese position reflected in the fractions of the CPI.


The controversy over the question of the ‘role of the national bourgeois and national democratic revolution with in India, vis-à-vis the international communist movement’, cast its shadow over the Communist Party of India. The controversy had its roots in the debates that took place in the Second Comintern Congress (1920). It split the Communist party in India into two major groups; the right CPI (the so called ‘pro-Moscow’ party) and the left CPI (the so called ‘pro-Peking’ party) .

The division came into fore during the 1960’s when J L Nehru was India’s prime mister and particularly during the Sino-Indian war.

One fraction of the CPI party believed that as Congress under Nehru was trying to make partnership with Soviet, they might give temporary support to the Congress government.


But another  fraction of the CPI  didn’t believe that Congress was  trying to follow Communism ; and  it  also believed that members of the Congress  party were class-enemies, hence, it was of no use to support them.


The division between the two fractions of CPI widened during the Sino–Indian war. China also did not like Moscow’s attitude towards the conflict. A fraction of the CPI viewed the Sino-Indian war as a conflict between a capitalist state (India) and a communist state (China). And, ideologically, it had to support the Communist state keeping aside sentiments of nationalism. This section which supported Chinese got separated from the CPI and formed a new party called Communist Party of India  (CPIM).

The other section of the CPI continued to believe in a strategic tie with the Government of India.

But such controversies in the present day are irrelevant.  And, moreover the Left has rapidly lost ground; and with hardly any prospects of coming to power in any state, independently. Both the communist parties talk of coalition of the Left and democratic process.  But they do not seem to have a credible concrete program. Further, both the factions are bogged down with lack of new leadership and plenty of internal squabbling.

After disillusionment with CPI–M, the search for ideologies to bring about changes shifted to other areas. In 1975 it was Jayaprakash Narayan; in 1989 it was VP Singh; and in 2012 it was around Anna Hazare.  And now, it is BJP; and, it too, somehow, appears a distant prospect.





Next Part

Sources and References

  1. Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939

 By John Patrick Haithcox

2 .Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International

Fourth Session – July 25

Fifth Session -July 28

3.Minutes of the Congress

  1. Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947

By Shashi Bairathi

 5. Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller


Posted by on January 15, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 07

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 07

Continued from Part 06

In Berlin on the way to Moscow

In November 1919, after a stay of about two and a half years in Mexico, Roy and Evelyn departed from the port of Veracruz, Mexico’s oldest and largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, on their way to Russia. They travelled under the Mexican diplomatic passports, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.

It had been decided that, for reasons of their safety, the Roys’ would not travel directly to Moscow; but would reach Moscow via Cuba, Spain, and Germany. These precautions were necessary to escape the attention of the British Secret Service.It was also decided that they  would spend more time in Berlin to gain good  experience of the Communist movement in Germany. According to the plan, Borodin along with Charles Phillips had left for Europe prior to Roys’ departure from Mexico.

After brief halt in Cuba and in Spain, Roy and Evelyn reached Berlin, via Milan and Zurich, by the end of December 1919.  The Mexico’s representatives in Europe had been instructed to render any type of assistance that Roy and Evelyn might need.

[Roy, in fact, had initially started for Berlin from Japan about four years ago, in search of funds and arms to fight the British rule. But, by the time of his actual visit to Berlin in 1919 many changes had taken place in his life, in his views and in his objectives. This time, he no longer was seeking money or arms; he was also not intent on raising a rebellion in India. He now was gripped by a new faith that believed in mass movement and social revolution. And yet, the urgent need to overthrow Imperial regimes in the colonies remained the driving force.]

On their way to Moscow, Roys’ stopped at Berlin for about four months (from end of November 1919 to April 1920; eventually reaching Moscow in end of April or early May 1920). Their wait at Berlin was perhaps necessary because of the disturbed conditions that then prevailed in post-war Europe. Further, the travel to Russia, in particular, across various borders was beset with difficulties, uncertainties and risks.

Another reason for Roy’s prolonged stay at Berlin was to meet the Indian revolutionary groups operating from Germany; and, more importantly, to meet the leaders of the German Communist movement.


As regards the Indian revolutionaries operating from Germany, they had been actively involved in liaisoning with the Kaiser’s Government , even as early as in 1913, for gaining German support – in terms of funds and arms- for carrying out armed rebellion in India against the British rule. Their aim was to throw out the British from the Indian soil by waging relentless series of guerilla wars. During 1913-14, when the War had broken out, the Indians, mainly the students, resident in Germany, formed themselves into an organization called The Berlin Committee with the objective of promoting the cause of Indian Independence.

The Committee included famous persons such as Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (alias Chatto, brother of Sarojini Naidu), Chempakaraman Pillai and Abinash Bhattacharya. Lala Har Dayal, who by then had fled to Germany after orders for his arrest in the United States, also lent his support to the Committee.

The Berlin Committee persuaded the Kaiser Government to help them in the common cause of defeating the British. They had even succeeded in obtaining assurance from the Kaiser’s Government to fund and to supply arms to carry out the revolutionary movement in India against the British Rule.  In 1914, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg approved and sanctioned German support to Indian revolutionary groups.  Max von Oppenheim was appointed the head of the German effort. He was an archaeologist as well as the head of the newly formed Intelligence Bureau for the east. 

The Berlin Committee, on its part, established contacts with Indian revolutionaries headed by Bagha Jatin ; the Ghadar movement in USA; as also with several armament and explosives factories in German-friendly countries. Later, this Berlin-Indian Committee played an active part in the Hindu-German Conspiracy in USA.

During the course of the War, in 1915, The Berlin Committee was re-named as the Indian Independence Committee (Das Indische Unabhängigkeitskomitee).

The Committee itself was the brainchild of the  Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient  and its director, the Orientalist Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, who tended to refer to the IIC as ‘Meine Inder’ (‘my Indians’).  The Indians on the Committee were expected to assist with propaganda material to induce desertions and surrenders among British Indian troops in Europe; among the Indian prisoners of war in German prison camps to volunteer for a military expedition to free India from foreign rule.

The ‘plot’ was highlighted and sensationalized in the press during the famous San Francisco Conspiracy Case of 1917-18, when the United States joined the war and proceeded to take action against Indians and their sympathizers operating from within the USA


The Germans did try to support the Indian rebels in USA , but were unsuccessful , mainly because their correspondence with the Military Attaché of the German Consulate in USA (Wilhelm Von Brincken ) were intercepted . Please see a Press Report concerning the letter of 04 November 1916 by Von Brincken, which was produced as prosecution  evidence in the Hindu German Conspiracy.


Towards the end of the war, a group had moved with Viren Chattopadhyay to Sweden, where a strategic branch office of Indian nationalists had been set up, and from where Chatto and his colleagues had begun communicating with the Bolsheviks in the run-up to the October Revolution. Many of them moved back to Germany in the early years of the Weimar Republic

After the war and the defeat of Germany, the Berlin Committee members were reduced to a bunch of disillusioned, disappointed broken men constantly quarreling among themselves out of sheer desperation. They could not see a way out their predicament. Their plans for future had nowhere to go. The Committee was formally disbanded in November 1918, with each member pursuing his own way. And, some were getting attracted towards the nascent Bolshevik movement of Russia and to the ideology of Communism.


By the time Roy reached Berlin (say, end of December 1919), the Committee, formally, was no longer in existence. However, there were some Indians in Berlin who were looking for a forum and opportunities to work together. But, these persons were, generally, independent and not subscribing to a common view or an agenda. And, nothing much came of their restlessness.

Some of such prominent Indians in Berlin during those times included: Tarachand Roy; Benoy Kumar Sarkar; Abdur Rahman; Chamapakraman Pillai; Dr. J. C. Dasgupta; Satish Chandra Roy; Hardayal; Debendra Bose; K. K. Naik; V. Joshi; B. N. Dasgupta; J. N. Lahiri; Heramaba Lal Gupta; Dhirendranath Sarkar; A. S. Siddiqui; Abdus Sattar Khairi; Bhupendranth Datta (brother of Narendranath Datta – Swami Vivekananda); and, Soumyendranath Tagore, the poet Rabindranath’s nephew, an unorthodox socialist who traveled in and out of Berlin until 1933


During his stay in Berlin, Roy did meet some the members of the disbanded Berlin Committee; but was disappointed.

At the same time, Roy was trying to develop personal contacts with eminent socialist and communists leaders of Germany. They were figures like Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Wilhelm Pieck and August Thalheimer. He also befriended H.J. Sneevliet in Holland.

[In 1918, as the War was drawing to a close, the common people of Germany were exhausted by the deaths and devastation brought upon them. Apart from destroyed houses, they had to contend with the problem of acute shortage of food, fuel and also unreasonably high price of daily commodities.  When the defeat of Germany was in sight, the social and political convulsions began to churn. In October 1918, workers, sailors and soldiers of the Baltic ports began to set up the Bolshevik-style councils; and, soon red flags fluttered atop the ports and factories. It also spread to major German cities. To stimulate the unrest that was gathering pace, the Soviet embassy in Berlin provided weapons to the insurgents. In November, Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated after he lost the support of his troops. The German parliament declared creation of the Social Democratic Party.

In December 1918, the radical elements within the German Socialists and the workers’ union founded the Communist Party of Germany- Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) under the leadership of   Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. After the assassination of these two leaders, August Thalheimer and others came to the forefront.]

 Roy came close to August Thalheimer*, the German Marxist activist and theoretician. He started attending the secret meetings of the German Communists discussing current problems of the revolution. Roy, later wrote: I was immensely benefitted by the discussions; and, before long, I could participate in the discussions. They all treated me with kindness, affection and respect.

[*August Thalheimer (March 18, 1884 to September 19, 1948) was a German Marxist, activist and theoretician.


Thalheimer was a member of the German Social Democratic Party prior to the First World War. He edited Volksfreund, one of the party newspapers, and from 1916 worked on Spartakusbriefe, the official paper of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). Thalheimer became a founder member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), where he was recognized as the party’s main theorist. (Thalheimer, it is said, was a learned Sanskrit scholar, an authority on Panini’s Grammar)

During the Stalinist years, the Communist Party of Germany – KPD criticised the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. He was expelled from the KPD. Then, in 1928, he along with Brandler formed the Communist Party Opposition (KPO). However, facing threat from Stalinist forces, Thalheimer went into exile in Paris from 1932. At the start of 1935 Thalheimer began writing a regular column on international news for Workers Age, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the USA (Opposition). Thalheimer went to Barcelona, Spain in 1936; and became involved in the local politics of the Marxist Workers’ Party of Spain.  In July 1937, six members of the KPO in Barcelona were arrested by the Stalinists. He soon returned to France again to work with the KPO in exile. He started writing articles criticizing the German Fascists and the Russian Communist Dictators, alike; A very hazardous occupation, indeed.

In 1940, after the outbreak of the War and as the German forces swiftly occupied France, Thalheimer fled to Cuba. He died in Havana on 19 September 1948.]


As regards Rosa Luxemburg, the Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist, by the time Roy reached Berlin (say, end of December 1919), Rosa Luxemburg was no longer alive; she and Liebknecht had been murdered on January 15, 1919, by members of the Free Corps (Freikorps), a loose band of conservative paramilitary groups. But her writings influenced Roy greatly.

Rosa luxemburgh

Roy found in the life and writings Rosa Luxemburg, the convergence of two streams of ideologies:  Freedom and Democracy on one side; and Revolutionary Order on the other. Throughout his active life, Roy was intensely committed to dismissal of British rule in India and ushering in new political, social, economic and moral order in Indian society. As regards the moral aspect, Roy came to believe that moral motive, independent of other motives for a social revolution (freedom, fraternity and order) was essential to build a strong and durable order as it ensures honesty and transparency in working of the system. On that point , Roy was closer to Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg than to Marx or Engels ( who had said: We reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma).

Rosa Luxemburg, in her book Accumulation of Capital, had written that the imperialist capitalist system survived and thrived on external markets of colonial countries. Roy maintained that argument in Second Congress as also in his later theses.

Benjamin Zachariah, a noted research scholar, in his paper Rosa Luxemburg on the National Question writes: It is an irony of history that Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), who thought of nationalism as narrow-minded and backward-looking, should today be remembered so often as a Polish-Jewish woman, thus reducing her to a set of identitarian particularisms. 


Berlin of the 1920s  was the hub of international subversive activities, where Egyptian and Indian organizations could coordinate their activities, assist each other in their anti-imperialist activities, and collectively appeal to the principles of German sovereignty and international political asylum rights.  Berlin was also the center where the rebel communist party of Germany began to form with networks across rest of Europe.

Roy, in particular, mentions about the secret meeting of the German Communist party, held in March 1920, which he attended.  The meeting which lasted almost throughout the night discussed the strategy for the general political strike which was to be declared the next day. This was the famous right wing revolt  Kapp Putsch also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch  wherein the German Army staged a Coup d’état

[It was March 1920. It had only been eighteen months since Germany’s defeat in the Great War and the subsequent signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles in which the politicians of Weimar Germany had agreed to pay massive reparations and accept Germany’s guilt for the conflict that had engulfed Europe. It was within this chaos that the ill-fated Kapp Putsch took place.

Friedrich Ebert (1871 -1925) , a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 , was also unwilling to abide by the humiliating conditions of the Versailles treaty. But, he hardly had any other option.

Wolfgang Kapp, a right-wing journalist, appalled by the humiliation brought upon the German nation, persuaded General Luttwitz to stage rebellion against the Government of Elbert; throw him out;  and establish a right-wing autocratic government in its place. Kapp had also the support of Germany’s foremost military officer – General Erich Luderndorff. On 13 March 1920, Lüttwitz and Kapp marched into Berlin, at the head of a 6,000-strong group of Freikorps (demobilized or free soldiers), sporting swastika emblems on their helmets, determined to overthrow the government.

The Weimar president, Friedrich Ebert, called on his army to crush the Kapp Putsch, as it came to be known, but was told “troops don’t fire on troops”.  Without military support, Ebert and his government fled to Dresden in south Germany.

On the same day, Luttwitz seized Berlin and proclaimed that a new right of centre nationalist government was being established with Kapp as chancellor.

From Dresden, Friedrich Ebert gave a call to the German people to go on a general strike to paralyse the rebellion as also immobilize those supporting  Kapp and Luttwitz.  Responding to his call, the common people, along with the workers led by the Communist Party, joined the general strike. The civil service too sided with Ebert and refused to take orders from Kapp. Within about four days of general strike the whole of Germany was paralyzed. The immobile and helpless Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch was doomed and failed badly. Kapp and Luttwitz fled Berlin on March 17th. (But, those who fought for Kapp and Luttwitz later became supporters of the fledgling Nazi Party.)

With the failure of the rebellion, the Government of the Weimar president, Friedrich Ebert was saved. And, Friedrich Ebert returned to power and his regime was restored.]

Kapp-Putsch, Marinebrigade Erhardt in Berlin

Roy who was watching these developments was fascinated by the coming together of common people, the civil service and the workers; and , their triumph over the Army. There were some lessons to be learnt from the five days of the Kapp Putsch. It demonstrated the power of mass movement; and, of the general strike. It also showed that the Government’s means of dealing with uprisings of such nature are indeed very limited. In such stringent situations,  a Government cannot effectively enforce its authority, even in its own capital, unless  it has  the support of its people. At the same time, the support of the army could not be taken for granted.


The German Marxists led by August Thalheimer had a slightly different interpretation of Karl Marx’s doctrine and the also differed from the Russian Bolsheviks. Though they believed in the ultimate social revolution and liberation of the working classes, they preferred a gradual progress towards socialism that did not resort to violence or armed insurgency. Their method was to build a mass movement and steer the country towards socialism. Roy, as he said, was struck by the ‘humanness ‘of the German Socialists. However, Roy a new convert to Communism, could not, at that stage, see anything other than what he had learnt from Borodin in Mexico.  But  later in his life , Roy came to greatly appreciate the principle of ‘humanness’ and made it a corner stone of his philosophy.


Roy had long discussions with German Communist leaders to widen his knowledge about the theory and practice of Communism. It helped him to visualize and dream about the form and content of the future Communist movement in India.

Thereafter, Roy before leaving Berlin for Moscow wrote what he called as the Indian Communist Manifesto. The opening lines of the Manifesto were addressed to the Indian revolutionaries who were told that the time had come for them to  ‘  make a statement of their principles in order to interest the European and American proletariat in the struggle of Indian masses , which is rapidly becoming a fight for economic and social emancipation and abolishion of class rule’. It also blamed the bourgeois (largely the Indian middle class) striving for democracy and the failure of the nationalist movement.

“The nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses, because it strives for a bourgeois democracy and cannot say how the masses will be benefited by independent national existence. The emancipation of the working class lies in the social revolution and the foundation of a communist state. Therefore, the growing spirit of rebellion in the masses must be organised on the basis of class struggle in close cooperation with the world proletarian movements.”

Roy then suggested to the Indian nationals in Germany, most of whom were former members of the Berlin Committee, to join the proletarian forces with Russia in the forefront. However, the idea did not appeal to many, because it was not nationalistic and was not India-centered. Some of them (including Bhupendranath Dutta whom Roy knew from his Calcutta days) even suspected that Roy could be acting as an agent of the Bolsheviks planning to take control of the Indian revolutionary movement.

The draft Manifesto; its language and its strange terms were also out of their ken; and its stated objectives did not find favor with most  of the Ex-Committee members who were basically nationalists and who came from educated class in India.

Abani Mukherji

Eventually there were only three signatories to that document : Roy himself; Evelyn Trent Roy who affixed her signature as Santi Devi , her newly acquired pseudonym; and, Abani Mukherji (Abaninath Mukherji) , an Ex-member of the Anushilan Samithi , who had just arrived from India through the Dutch –East –Indies (Indonesia) and Holland .


While in Berlin, Roy started on his book India in Transition , with Abani Mukherji providing the statistical input. The Book was eventually published  from Berlin , in 1922 after he had spent about two years in Moscow. During the intervening period, Roy kept revising his Draft-Book.  As it progressed, the ideas gained from discussions with Lenin and other Communist leaders at the Second Congress of the Communist International in Russia during 1920 were brought into Book.

The Book argued that the rebellion of 1857 had failed to rid of feudalism in India. The India in Transition  gives a critical analysis of Indian society and a clear vision of the process of attuning Indian Independence. It remained a reference book for the communists on colonial and semi colonial questions. That was until the official change took place in the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International in 1929, by which time Roy had been expelled by the Comintern.

But, the more interesting part of the book is about the issues that figured in Roy’s discussions with Lenin on the role of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in the Indian independence movement.  Each looked at Congress and Gandhi form his own perspective, guided by own his experience in the revolution. And, that was also the crucial point of difference between Lenin and Roy.

Gandhi retuned to India in 1915. And, by about 1920-21, the Indian independence movement and the Indian National Congress had come under the influence of Gandhi.

On the question of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi, Lenin formed his views drawing upon his experience of Russian revolution. Lenin pointed out that the Bolsheviks had supported the liberal liberation movements against Tsarist rule. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general content that is directed against oppression. And, it is this content that we support. The ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘opposed to Imperialism, could, therefore, initially, be regarded as ‘revolutionary’. You will now have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening, and must awake. At this stage we are interested in building an anti-imperialist united front. The question when and what stage such ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘should be discarded would be decided at a later time depending upon the situation.

Lenin 1920

 Lenin had developed a broader perceptive of revolutionary processes having lived and worked through its various stages.  The broader picture that he envisioned was social revolution in the West as also in the East.  Lenin, in general, was in favour of a creative search for effective ways, forms and means of struggle for socialism taking along with it the national conditions. He thought that the principles of socialism , in particular situations, “ could be correctly modified, correctly adopted and applied to national and national-state distinctions”. In that wider process he was not averse utilising nationalism in creating a broad based anti-imperialistic movement; and, later to take over the movement.

[Lenin did not share Marx’s faith in the ‘spontaneous’ development of class-consciousness. He saw an essential difference between the proletariat and the socialist, meaning a class-conscious proletariat. Lenin considered that the development of genuine class–consciousness depends upon the party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second World Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India; but there only a few scattered revolutionary groups. He opined that it would take some time before the Indian proletariat and peasantry could be mobilized.]

Lenin contented that non-communist nationalist organizations like the Indian National Congress could , for the present,  be considered as revolutionary, since no viable Communist party existed in India. And, it would take some time before the Indian workers and peasants could be mobilized and organized effectively. Until then, the organizations such as Congress, Lenin said, deserved support. He said, the Indian Communists were duty bound to support such’ bourgeois liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them. As he said, there could be ‘ temporary relations’ or ‘unions’ with such movements. As regards Gandhi, Lenin believed that Gandhi as the inspirer and leader of a mass movement, could be regarded a revolutionary. It is said, Lenin, at one stage, remarked: a good nationalist is better than a bad communist.

M N Roy (1)

Roy, at the age of 28,   left India in 1915, just at the time when Gandhi returned to India after twenty-one years in South Africa. During his early years, Roy was busily engaged in insurgency; and, for most of his active years in India, he was a fugitive. He was not in manner associated or involved with political process. His views on Indian National Congress, in 1921-22, were tinted with the impressions he gained, while in India, as a rebellious youth.  It was also clouded by the indoctrination he received from Borodin during 1919. Borodin during his brief stay in Mexico (1919) had worked hard to liberate Roy from notions of Nationalism. And, those lessons fructified in the An Indian Communist Manifesto which Roy drafted in Berlin, during 1920, en route from Mexico to Moscow for the Second Congress of the Comintern. Roy presented the same set of views at the Second Congress later in Moscow. In his Draft Manifesto, it was said: We want the world to know that nationalism is confined to the bourgeois, but the masses are awakening to the call of the social revolution.

Obviously , at that stage , Roy  had neither  grasped nor understood the necessity of the ‘proletariat’ to unite with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ in their common  revolutionary struggle  against Imperialism for  achieving the Indian Independence.   And, while millions were marching along Gandhi in a national upsurge, Roy wrote ‘the nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses’. He again misread the situation asserting that ‘the masses are pushed on to the revolutionary ranks not so much by national enthusiasm, as by the  … Struggle for economic emancipation’. Those misinformed statements were compounded with Roy’s exuberant estimate of the Indian proletariat’s revolutionary capacity to fight, singly, for Indian independence.

In his discussions with Lenin and in his book India in Transition , Roy took a very highly critical view of Indian National Congress and of Gandhi, in particular.

Roy criticized the Indian national movement under the Congress Party – the way it was preceding and its leadership. He was particularly unhappy with the lack of any theoretical foundation, socio-economic philosophy for the Indian national movement.

He said:  “There must be a socio-political philosophy behind any great movement. The much-needed ideological background of our struggle is not to be invented from the imagination of great men; it will be evolved out of the material forces making the birth, growth and success of such a struggle possible.

The Indian people are engaged in a social struggle of historic proportion and to a certain extent of unprecedented character. A modern political movement on such a huge scale involving a sweeping mass-action cannot go on forever with antiquated religious ideology.

It is highly essential to study the social conditions, actual as well as of the past, and to watch the evolution of the economic forces in order to ensure that  the people of India are progressing along a course common  to the entire human race.

The present situation in India is not unique in history. It is a stage of social development marked by a sudden and rapid introduction of modern means of production, resulting in a dislocation of the status quo, economic as well as territorial, of the population.

And yet; we have our peculiar problems to solve; there are peculiar obstacles to be overcome on our way. But the fact remains that we are involved in a great struggle which calls for profound understanding of the socio- economic forces making for the progress of the Indian people”.

He remarked: the Indian National Congress has landed in a political bankruptcy. Today it stands at the cross-roads. It must either adjust its socio-political convictions in accordance with the forces behind the great mass upheaval, or put itself straight on the tracks of constitutional democracy.  The latter will take it back under moderate leadership, which is convinced that the British connection is beneficial to the economic interests of that class of the people whose political representative they are. Caught in morass of such hopeless contradictions, the Congress cannot provide the ideological base for Indian national movement.

Therefore, one has to be cautious. The struggle of the Indian bourgeoisie is not against a government controlled by rich landed aristocracy with strong feudal traditions; it is against the highest form of capitalism in an extremely critical moment of its existence. Consequently, there is a great possibility of compromise in this struggle.

He cited the instance of the British policy of supporting Indian industry during the war-years, in its own interests. Unable, during the war, to sell its manufactured goods in the Indian markets, Britain reversed its traditional policy of keeping India industrially backward. It took the Indian bourgeois into confidence and let them a free field to develop. It went on to appoint an Indian Industrial Commission (1916) for promoting industries in India. By the end of the war, the Indian capitalist class had gathered enough clout to make demands on British Government. The needs of the industry gave a lever to manipulate the Indian capitalists and to split the revolutionary movement. There was thus an active connivance between the British imperialism and the Indian bourgeois.

 Roy then went on to assert that the over throw of the British rule will be achieved only by the joint action of the bourgeois and the masses.  But in the long run, he said, the separation of masses from bourgeois leadership was inevitable. That is because; the bourgeois nationalism would end in compromise with Imperial powers.

Roy, during 1921-22, believed that organizations like Indian National Congress would eventually betray the revolution; and, Gandhism would collapse. Instead, he argued, the Indian peasantry and working class must be mobilized and brought under Communism.   And, the liberation of India would be realized through the political movement of workers and peasants, ‘consciously organized on grounds of class-struggle’. He predicted that liberation from Imperialism would only come under Communist leadership. [This was despite the fact that the International Communist movement, by then , had not forged any credible link either with the Indian nationalists or with  the Indian masses.]


Roy who was then a Marxist contended that political independence does not equal total freedom, since full freedom involved economic rights and opportunities for the masses. Such full freedom, Roy argued, was far beyond mere political freedom which Gandhi was fighting for. He said ‘the political independence is not the end, but is the means for radical transformation of Indian society, demanding changes in the social structure and extinction of class domination by transfer of ownership of land to cultivator . And, it should be followed by a rapid growth of modern mechanized industry ‘. Roy conceived freedom and social change in terms of sweeping economic changes’.

Gandhi did recognize the importance of economic reforms, but, emphasized on the ‘moral aspects’ of freedom. He was talking of Swaraj which meant both ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-control’. Gandhi’s view of Swaraj rooted in Indian nationalist tradition prevailed in Congress. Gandhi was , in fact , following the dictum of Swami Vivekananda : ’ one may gain political and social independence , but if one is a slave to ones passions and desires , one cannot feel the pure joy of real freedom’( Complete Works , Vol.  5, p. 419).

[Interestingly, many years later in 1940 while launching his Radical Democratic Party (RDP) , Roy declared that  that the RPD must be  a party not of the ‘economic man ‘ but rather a party of ‘ moral men , moved by the ideal of human freedom. He went on to say: Any connection between RPD and any particular class is repudiated. The party’s alliance can only to the abiding values of humanity, since ethical values are greater than economic interests. Call this an idealistic deviation, if you please. I would plead guilty to the charge’. ]



In his newspaper Advance Guard ‘  he sent a programme to the Indian National Congress on the eve of the Gaya Congress held in the last week of December, 1922, which included some of the following  : ideas: 1) Abolition of landlord-ism 2) Reduction of land rent 3) State aid for modernization of agriculture 4) Abolition of indirect taxes 5) Nationalization of public utilities 6) Development of modern industries 7) Eight hour day, fixation of minimum wages by legislation 8) Free and compulsory education 9) Separation of State and religion


As regards Roy’s views on Gandhi (as it did during 1921-22); for a short while, Roy was impressed by Gandhi and saw his non-violent path as the only path available to the Indian revolutionaries under conditions of colonialism. But Roy was disillusioned when Gandhi withdrew the mass movement.

But, at the same time  , he said : Gandhi’s criticism of modern civilization , that is capitalist society, is correct. But, the remedy he prescribes is not only wrong but impossible.

In Roy’s view, the religious ideology preached by Gandhi appealed to the medieval mentality of masses. But, the same ideology discouraged the revolutionary urge of the masses. The quintessence of the situation, as he analyzed and understood it, was a potentially revolutionary movement restrained by reactionary ideology”. He maintained that as a religious and cultural revivalist, Gandhi was bound to be a reactionary, socially, however different.

He quoted back to Lenin, his own dictum: without revolutionary ideology there could be no revolution.

[Evelyn Trent Roy writing under pen name Santi Devi, in her article titled The Debacle of Gandhism (November 1922) also said  :  Mr. Gandhi had become an unconscious agent of reaction in the face of a growing revolutionary situation. The few leaders of the Congress Party, who realized this and sought a way out, were rendered desperate, almost despairing at the dilemma. Mr. Gandhi had become a problem to his own movement…]

Then, Roy went back to his revolutionary mode; and, declared that the mass revolt movement in Asia, India in particular, was  very crucial to the success of the revolutionary forces in the West.

He said: “What I learned during several months of stay in Germany about the conditions in Europe and their immediate perspective fostered in me the feeling that the proletariat in the metropolitan countries would not succeed in their heroic endeavour to capture power unless imperialism was weakened by the revolt of their colonial peoples, particularly India” .


Many years later, in 1936, when Roy attended the Faizpur session of the Congress, he criticized Gandhi and his inner circle for imposing their tactics from above on the rank and file. He pointed out that their organizational legacy is mostly “authoritarian dictatorial” high-command that resembles the inner coterie of the Comintern. He gave a call to halt the brahmin-baniya domination over Congress; and to usher in an agrarian social revolution.

Gandhi, of course, was not amused; and, advised Roy to stay out of Indian politics, and just “render mute service to cause of Indian freedom”.


There is an interesting footnote to Roy’s dream of Indian revolution and Indian independence.

Chief Justice P.B. Chakraborty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, during 1956, wrote a letter to Prof. Dr. R C Majumdar the author of A History of Bengal. It relates to a conversation that Justice Chakraborty had with Lord Clement Attlee when the latter visited Calcutta during 1956. Lord Attlee was then staying as a guest in the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal (Justice P.B. Chakraborty).

  Justice Chakraborty wrote:

“When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!”

Please see 5. Attlee’s Personal View at :]

It might be true that the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhi played a leading role in the freedom struggle. But at the same time, it would be fair to acknowledge the contributions, struggles and sacrifices made by countless non-congress organizations, groups and individuals in their fight to secure National freedom.

Among such varied and diverse groups that fought for national independence, the more prominent were the right-wing Nationalist groups and the Left –wing Communists. Their activities intensified after the sudden suspension of non-cooperation movement by Gandhi in the wake of a stray incident at Chauri Chura in 1922. It caused deep resentment, disappointment, disillusionment and disgust among the Indian youth.  Some took to the Nationalist revolutionaries and lot others chose the Communist way.

Their revolutionary movements spread across the world – mainly in Europe, Far East and America.

In the following pages you would be amazed to see the intense and dedicated involvement of the International Communist Party and its organizations in Europe and Asia in their participation of India’s struggle for freedom. Apart from Indian-nationals, it is remarkable that a significant number of intelligent, bright and well meaning western men and women dedicated their lives to the cause of India’s freedom. They also made huge sacrifices; underwent persecution, withstood harsh treatment and endured long years of imprisonment just for a cause which they cherished as just and noble. They had no ambitions   whatsoever of personal gain. We all should remember them with deep sense of gratitude, reverence and love.


By about April 1920, the Berlin Embassy of the USSR received a message from Angelica Balabanova, the First Secretary to the Communist International with instructions to arrange for Roy’s travel to Moscow, immediately.  

Accordingly, Roy along with Evelyn boarded a middle class passenger ship named The Soviet departing from the port Stettin (regarded as the port of Berlin was the capital of the Prussian province of Pomerania, now in Poland, on the Oder). After reaching Reval (now known as Tallinn) , in Estonian Republic, they travelled by train to reach Leningrad. From there they took another train to Moscow, the political capital of USSR. It was sometime at the end of April 1920.




Next Part



Sources and References

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

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

M N Roy by V B Karnik

M N Roy -A Political Biography by Samaren Roy

All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on January 14, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 06

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 06

Continued from Part 05

Mexico years – Part Two

Apart from circulating in the Mexican high society, Roy began to frequent the meetings of various Socialist groups in Mexico City. He came in contact with many Socialist thinkers, journalists and party-worker. And, that re-kindled his interest in Socialism.

Among the Socialists he met, during his initial months in Mexico, was Ignazio Santibanez – an elderly lawyer and a noted Marxist of his time; and, also the leader of the local Socialist Party.  He had read and liked Roy’s articles published on El Pueblo.  Santibanez invited Roy to the meeting of the executives of his small Socialist party; and, also introduced him to the Party members.

Another socialist with whom he got close was the American, Charles Francis Phillips. He and his wife Elsinore had escaped to Mexico after evading arrest for organizing pacifist demonstrations on the campus of the Columbia University. Charles Francis Phillips was working in Mexico, posing himself  as Manuel Gomez. He, as Manuel Gomez, was the editor of the English language section of the Spanish newspaper El Heraldo de Mexico; and. under his influence, the paper acquired a socialist tinge. Some of the material was taken directly from Soviet books and articles. Later in 1920, under the alias Frank Seaman, he attended the Second World Congress of the Communist International held in Russia.  And, in 1964 Phillips under the name of Gomez, he published a detailed interview in the Survey, in which , among other matters, he gave his recollections of Roy and Borodin in Mexico.

At the invitation of Ignazio Santibanez, Roy joined the Mexican Socialist Party; and, was appointed as its propaganda secretary. The Party was still small. Manuel Gomez, one of its members, described it as ‘Cinco gatos ‘ (a bunch of five cats) , meaning it was just nothing and of no consequence.

Roy resolved to apply himself wholeheartedly to his new task; and worked hard for expansion of the Party. He was successful in augmenting its membership. He took an active part in the Mexican social revolutionary movement; and,  soon was in the front. This was his first experience in practical politics.

Mexico and its social environment sprinkled with socialists and radicals renewed his conviction in bringing about a social revolution. He began to associate himself actively with socialist groups, newspapers and propaganda work. For the first time in his life, Roy got involved in the political process of organizing a party; making speeches; educating the aspiring members; writing books and articles; and, editing magazines and periodicals. His latent organizational skills and literary talent found a new impetus and expression in Mexico.

Roy enjoyed his new experiences; and, threw himself wholeheartedly into the pool of political activity and social revolution in Mexico. His acquaintances of this busy period described Roy as “tall, slim, elegant and somber, deadly serious…, very brilliant, a fascinating personality (Charles Phillips); and, a person of boundless energy’ (Carleton Beals) .

Roy took the initiative to hold   First Conference of the Socialist Party of Mexico in December 1917. And, Roy, the al companero Indio (the Indian comrade), was nominated as the General Secretary of the New Party, which was re-named as the  El Partido Socialista Regional Mexico – Regional Socialist International. He not only offered to bear the entire costs of the conference, but also bought the Socialist party a printing press so that its organ, La Lucha de los clases (of which he was named the Editor) could be converted into a regular Weekly of eight pages.

At the conference, it was decided to draw up a programme to protect the labour class. The task of drafting the programme was entrusted to Roy. It was also decided to convene an International Conference to which delegates were to be invited from the different States of the Mexican Republic; and also from a number of Latin American countries.


In the meantime , the Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, ( 29 December 1859 – 21 May 1920)   who had been following Roy’s articles on El Pueblo was impressed with Roy’s stand on the Munroe Doctrine , criticising  the imperialist ambitions and its scramble for domination over colonies that caused the  War, which had  just ended.

Venustiano Carranza

Venustiano Carranza who became the President in 1915, after the revolution, had to contend with varied sorts of opposition from within and from outside his country. Public corruption was another major problem of Carranza’s presidency. A popular saying that was going around was : “The Old Man doesn’t steal; but he lets them steal”; and a new verb, carrancear  (to-let-steal) was coined.

Carranza an ardent nationalist was not a radical or a socialist. But, he was sincere about alleviating the problems of the working class; and made provisions in the draft constitution to protect the interests of the wage earners; and, to guarantee minimum wages. The Constitution he proposed was, of course, a mere intent than anything else, since its enforcement required a strong and committed government, which Carranza did not possess. For that, he asked for support from the Socialists.

Roy, who then was at the forefront of the Socialist movement in Mexico, was eager to offer support to the Carranza Government, with the hope that the radical principles of the constitution would be brought into practice. He initially met Elena Torres the young Editor of La Mujer Moderna (The Modern Woman) , who had been a Secretary to Carranza even before he became the President of the Mexican  Republic. She was now the President of the Women’s Club of Mexico.

Roy discussed with Elena Torres, the future of Socialist Party in Mexico. He also met in her residence, Don Manuel, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. And, through Don Manuel Roy met Carranza; and persuaded him to support the socialist movement ; and, to agree to “a programme of legislation for the protection of labour, particularly against exploitation by foreign imperialist capital”.

Roy also succeeded in gaining the support of Plutarco Elias Calles, a popular socialist leader, who later in 1924 was to be elected as the President of the Mexican Republic.

Roy had also suggested that a Latin American League should be formed as an opposition to the Pan-American conference sponsored by the U.S.A. The idea appealed to President Carranza.

Roy then suggested to Don Manuel, the setting up of a working class organization; and, followed it up by submitting an outline of the labour policy for consideration of the President.

In the meantime, Roy, at the instance of General Alvarado, began writing a series of articles in the English section of the Daily El Heraldo de Mexico , edited by his friend Charlie Phillips. Roy used the columns of the Daily to put forth the socialist view, and to highlight the evils of American Imperialism in Latin American countries. His articles were later brought out in book-form under the title  El Camino.

He now turned to the socialists and other radicals to organize a broad-based movement which would oppose the U.S. and support the Carranza Government. For that purpose, Roy drafted a manifesto for the proposed socialist conference to which delegates were to be invited from the different States of the Republic, and from a number of Latin American countries.


Then, in the summer of 1919 , came Michael Borodin. He was a huge influence on Roy’s life; thoroughly changed his ways of thinking; his life; and his political career. The two grew into great friends; helped each other; and, at crucial points they saved each other’s life.

[Mikhail Markovich Borodin (July 9, 1884 – May 29, 1951) was a prominent Agent of the Communist International (abbreviated as Comintern and also known as Third International (1919–1943)

Borodin1Michael Borodin, the Bolshevik leader whose original name was Mikhail Markovich Gruzenberg, born into a Jewish rabbinical family in Yanovichi, near Vitebsk in Byelorussia, in 1884, had joined the Bolsheviks in 1903. And, he became a close associate and follower of Vladimir Lenin in his various revolutionary activities. Borodin, besides being a revolutionary was an exceptional intellectual with wide experience. He had certain charm and sophistication about him.  Borodin also possessed a striking physical appearance (he was, according to one description, ‘a man with shaggy black hair brushed back from his forehead, a Napoleonic beard, deep-set eyes, and a face like a mask’)

During his Bolshevik underground activities in 1905, Borodin escaped from Switzerland, avoiding arrest, and moved on to London; and, from there to USA. There in America, Borodin, it is said, studied law;  and,  with  his wife lived in Chicago as Mr. and Mrs. Gruzenberg posing as English teachers for immigrant children. They had two children.  While in Chicago, he became a member of the American Socialist Party.  Borodin returned to Russia after the October Revolution of 1917 and worked for the Comintern, in the foreign relations department. But, his wife and family continued to stay in Chicago. During Lenin’s period, Borodin rose in the Party hierarchy; and, also engaged himself in translating Lenin’s ‘Communism: a Left-Wing Disorder’ into English. Lenin had also asked Borodin to organize communist activities in the U.S. and Latin America.

After his return to Russia, Borodin was sent back to America, in 1919, on a secret mission, to assist the Russian trade delegation. Moscow had sent him with Tsarist Crown jewels worth about One Million Rubles to sell them in America ; and,  to use the sale proceeds for the maintenance of the Trade Mission in Washington  as also for  the development of the Communist movement in America.

Borodin had sewed the crown jewels in the bottom of two suit cases. On the journey, at Vienna, he befriended a young former Officer of the defeated Imperial Army of Austria.  He was disillusioned and embittered; and was sailing to the New World in search of new life and fortune. The two had, in fact, boarded a trans-Atlantic cargo ship bound for West Indian Island of Curacao  . On the way, at Haiti, the ship was raided by American Custom officials and searched. The ‘passengers’ were off-loaded as ‘undesirable aliens’; and, held in custody pending investigation. And, Borodin promptly slipped away after entrusting the suit cases to the care of the former Army Officer of Austria, with instructions to deliver them to Borodin’s wife in Chicago. Borodin, somehow, managed to reach Jamaica; and from there escaped into New York.

That left Borodin stranded in New York searching for the missing suit cases. The New York Police got suspicious of Borodin’s movements. Borodin fearing arrest, escaped into Mexico and strayed into Mexico City under an assumed name (Mr. Brantwein), without the jewels, without any money and without any friends.

There in Mexico, while in hiding, he learnt of the Socialist Party and its Hindu Secretary. He sought out Roy and met him. That meeting and the mutual acquaintance proved to be very crucial in the lives of the both.

After his sojourn in Mexico, Borodin returned to Russia; and, was again sent on a mission to Britain.   In 1922, he was arrested in Glasgow. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for incitement; and, was then deported.

From 1923 to 1927 Borodin was an adviser to Sun Yat-Sen, leader of the Central Committee of the Kuomintang, in China, where he was held in high esteem. When , in 1927 , the Kuomintang came under the domination of its right wing, led by Chiang Kai-Shek, Borodin was arrested and forced to leave the country.

He went back to Russia to become the Deputy Commissar for labour.  But after 1932, he spent most of his time working as a journalist. He successively served as the Deputy Director of the Tass news agency, Editor–in-chief of the Soviet Information Bureau, and as the Editor of Moscow News.

Finally, in the anti-Semitic repression campaigns conducted under Stalin’s and Beria’s leadership, during 1949, Borodin and the entire editorial staff of the paper, including the American journalist  Anna Louise Strong, were arrested by the secret police . Anna Louise Strong, was accused of espionage and expelled from the USSR.

Borodin fell victim to Stalin’s reign of terror and his program of anti-semantic–repression. And, in the early 1950’s, Borodin was arrested and sent to the infamous Lefortovo, a prison in Moscow used by NKVD for interrogations with torture of political prisoners.

It is said that later on 29th May, 1951 Borodin died , following torture, at the Siberian  Prison in  Yakutsk* ,  the coldest town on earth by the river Lena , where over half a million prisoners of war and political dissidents  perished.

However, in the early 1960’s, under Leonid Brezhnev, Borodin along with other victims of Stalinist repression was posthumously rehabilitated.]

[* While speaking of the the Siberian  Prison in  Yakutsk*  it reminds me that, Interestingly, on October 17, 1970, Dr Satyanarayan Sinha, in his deposition  before the Khosla Commission, constituted by Indira Gandhi, (which investigated the reports about the death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose), stated  that Netaji did not die in the plane crash ; but, was imprisoned by the Soviets in Siberia. Dr Satya Narayan Sinha testified that in 1954, he met a certain Kozlov in Moscow, who told him that Netaji, was lodged in Cell No. 45 at Yakutsk Prison in Siberia.  However, the Commission, in its wisdom, chose to ignore Dr. Sinha’s testimony. Please click here. ]


Borodin , after he lost the Tsarist Crown jewels, and after escaping from American police, found shelter in Mexico City. While he was hiding there, Borodin came across articles criticizing Manuel Mendez in Gale’s Magazine, as also those written by Manuel Mendez in El Heraldo de Mexico. When he contacted Manuel Gomez, the Editor of El Heraldo de Mexico, Borodin learnt that Manuel Mendez was in fact the Hindu General Secretary of the Socialist Party.

And, through Gomez, Borodin met MN Roy in the summer of 1919, posing as Mr. Brantwein, a commercial agent. He then slowly revealed his identity; and narrated his sad story and his escapades; and, how he was hiding in Mexico stranded without money, without shelter and without friends. Borodin assured Roy and Gomez that he was their friend.

Roy was exited at meeting a Bolshevik who participated in Russian revolution along with legends like Lenin, Trotsky, et al and getting first-hand information of the Russian revolution.

After he learnt about Borodin’s plight, Roy invited Borodin to stay in his house and also gave him money for his expenses. Thereafter, he also sent some money to Borodin’s wife in Chicago; as also to the Trade Centre in Washington.

(Later, Roy wrote:  my involvement with Bolshevism started with a donation to the cause).

He also arranged for the search of the missing Austrian Army Officer and the two suit cases. The Officer could not be traced. But, the suit cases, it is said, eventually reached Borodin’s wife at Chicago.

[The story that unfolded after Borodin’s flight from Haiti was:  the Army Officer, who was investigated by the American Customs and released, continued to live in Haiti; but, as a hermit, in a hut on the beach. And, when he left Haiti, after some time, he left behind the suit cases as, by then, he had lost interest in all worldly possessions. Thus, the suit cases were misplaced; and, their track was lost for some time. But, again the Ex-Army Officer came back, picked up his belongings along with   Borodin’s two suit cases and reached New York. Since he was looking like a ‘total nut’, no one bothered to question him or check his baggage. Eventually, he delivered the suit cases to Mrs. Gruzenberg at Chicago.

Later, after Borodin reached Moscow, the Party charged him with theft and misappropriation of Crown Jewels. He was likely to be convicted. But, Roy, who then was also in Moscow, testified on behalf of Borodin; explained the circumstances ; and, pleaded for clearing the charges made against Borodin. Mrs. Gruzenberg was forthwith summoned to Moscow along with the precious cargo. Fortunately, their contents were intact. But, the question whether Borodin intended to defraud; and, let his wife retain the jewels was still hanging.

And, based on the supporting evidence provided by Roy, which established his honesty, Borodin was cleared of the charges; and, his life was saved. Their friendship thickened further. Roy wrote in his Memoirs that was his ‘second contribution to the cause of revolution’]


Roy took a strong liking to Borodin who was charming, intelligent, articulate and sophisticated. Borodin stayed with the Roys’ at their house in Colonia Roma, till his departure from Mexico in November 1919.  Roy and Borodin became good friends.  

[And later they worked together in Moscow and China. Despite differences on some policy issues from time to time, the two continued to be great friends throughout Roy’s association with Comintern.

Later in 1929 during the regime of Stalin, when Roy incurred the wrath of Stalin and was in danger of being arrested, Borodin saved Roy’s life by arranging for Roy’s escape from Moscow to Germany. Borodin repaid his debt by saving Roy from certain imprisonment and execution.]

While Borodin was staying with Roys’ ,  they spent long nights, after dinner, discussing the theory and practice of Communism; and the philosophical aspects of Marxism. At times, Roy sought to resist Borodin’s arguments with a defense of cultural nationalism. And; Borodin would argue back saying that Roy was attempting to defend a faith in which he  no longer firmly believed

Borodin was greatly responsible for Roy’s conversion to Communism. Borodin was a very learned and a cultured intellect. And Roy was a willing student. Roy learnt from him not only the intricacies of dialectical materialism ; but also the greatness of European culture.

He said of Borodin: “He initiated me into the intricacies of Hegelian Dialectics and its materialist version, as the key to Marxism (Memoirs p.195).

And, that broke his resistance to the materialism of the Marxist thought. Roy now became a materialist in his philosophical thought. Borodin had also helped Roy to outgrow his cultural parochialism. It was a leap from die-hard nationalism to communism’.

Till he met Borodin, Roy still believed, though waveringly, in the necessity of armed insurrection. But from Borodin he ‘learned to attach greater importance to an intelligent understanding of the idea of revolution. The propagation of the idea was more important than arms’.

It was Borodin who convinced Roy that the old methods of insurgence do not lead anywhere; and, what is needed is a revolution that is born out of the urge and out of the hearts of the common people. Roy then was gripped by the idea of an Indian revolution that brings together all classes exploited by British Imperialism. Borodin taught him about universal implications of class struggle and of the dialectical processes of history.  Roy thereafter envisioned not mere national independence,  but a social revolution with a viable economic structure that takes care of the interests of all the oppressed classes.

Roy also learnt from Borodin the need for a worldwide social revolution; and the tactics and strategies for organizing such an order. He, thus, began to grasp the Universal implications of class struggle and of the dialectical processes of history.

From Borodin, Roy learnt Marxism as a philosophy of life. What impressed Roy most was Marx’s famous Eleventh Thesis of Feuerbach, wherein Marx enunciates that philosophy should no longer confine itself to interpreting the world, but should try to change it.

This interpretation of the object of philosophy assumed profound significance for Roy. All the Schools of the Indian Philosophies discussed about freedom from sorrow and the ultimate release of Man from every sort of bondage. They were rather indifferent to the world we live in ;  because, the world (Samsara) that holds back should eventually be renounced.  Roy never thereafter laid faith on renunciation of the world; and totally rejected it as vain and selfish.  He developed a conviction that changing the world is within the human capability; and, building an equitable, just and moral order that guarantees individual liberty in the society as the greatest good that one can hope to achieve.

Even during his later years, Roy continued to believe:  “A revolutionary is one who has got the idea that the world can be remade, made better than it is to-day ; and, that it was not created by a supernatural power, therefore, could be remade by human efforts.”

[Please  do check here for more]


Evelyn, Borodin and the Biblioteca Nacional were the source of his education.  Borodin also helped Roy in his discovery of   European civilization and culture; and Roy’s liberation from ‘cultural parochialism’.  He said: My lingering faith in the special genius of India faded as I learnt from him the history of European Culture”

Roy, later, said: I acquired a new outlook on life; there was a revolution in my mind – a philosophical revolution. It was more than a change in his political and revolutionary ideas. It transcended the frontiers of culture and nationalism.

Roy felt that he was free and heir to the entire human heritage; not hampered by national loyalties or boundaries.   He equated the two years in Mexico City with a life “through a couple of centuries of cultural history.”

By the time he left Mexico, Roy’s views about revolution had undergone a sea change. He wrote: I left the land of my re-birth as an intellectually free man, though with a new faith. I no longer believed in political freedom without the content of economic liberation and social justice. And. I had also realized the intellectual freedom from the bondage of all tradition and authority was the condition essential for any effective struggle for social emancipation.

Indeed, Borodin changed the course of Roy’s life. Later, in his Memoirs, Roy described the months the he spent with Borodin as the most memorable period of his life. It was at this time, he wrote, the foundations of my subsequent intellectual development were laid.


Roy then introduced Borodin to Carranza the Mexican President, to the important officials in the Government and to the members of the Socialist Party. Carranza was impressed with Borodin. At the banquet hosted in his honour, Borodin declared that ‘the new regime in Russia fully sympathized with the struggles of the Latin American people against Imperialism. With that purpose a Latin American Bureau of the Communist International should be established in Mexico’.

 And, at Borodin’s request, President Carranza allowed facilities for the Russian Government and the Communist Party to operate in Mexico; and  also to contact the West European Bureau of the Communist International through the Mexican Legion in  Holland.  Further, Mexico became the first nation to accord de facto recognition the Communist Government in Russia.  Thus with Roy’s assistance, the Bolsheviks were able to get a foothold in the New World. Borodin informed the Comintern about the help he received from Roy in various ways; and,  said his task of Party work would not have been possible without Roy’s help and generosity.

President Carranza also assured Roy of his Government’s support for conducting Socialist conference to which delegates from the different States of the Republic, and from a number of Latin American countries are to be invited.


The whole of Mexico was thrilled with the success of the Russian revolution. The Socialist groups in Mexico City were exited when they learnt of the presence in their midst of a Bolshevik emissary.

As the various leftist groups began talking about forming a new Socialist Party , Roy financed a small paper El Socialista, run by Francisco Cervantes Lopez , leader of a Marxist group.

There was a demand to affiliate the Mexican Socialist Party to the Communist International. With his conversion into the new-found-faith, Roy sought to gain control of the Mexican Socialist Party of which he was the Secretary; and convert it into a Communist organization. Linn A. E. Gale, however, was against Roy’s nomination; and , called Roy as ‘ an agent provocateur and a spy’.

 Borodin sprang to the defense of Roy saying ‘ Roy , who is an Indian  and has worked for over ten years among natives who possibly have more in common with the Mexican peons , is perhaps right in  trying to link up with masses  through the existing unions’.  Roy eventually succeeded in easing out his most serious rival,  the American, Linn A. E. Gale. But, Gale promptly named his own group as the Communist Party of Mexico.

From August, 25, 1919 to September 4 1919, Roy organized a marathon session of the National Congress of the Socialist Party of Mexico. Roy and Evelyn chaired most of the sessions.  Having failed to persuade the remaining members of the Socialist Party to change its name and its principles, Roy and his small band of six followers broke from the Socialist Party and formed a second Communist Party of Mexico

In a session presided over by Roy, it was declared that the Mexican Socialist Party would henceforth be the Communist Party of Mexico. And the session adopted the manifesto of the issued by the Comintern. The new found Communist Party of Mexico (Partido Comunista Mexicano- PCM) with its small membership was humorously described as ‘six members and a calico cat’. But, Roy’s group, more importantly, had the blessing of Borodin; and that greatly helped, later, in gaining affiliation with the Communist International. This was the first recognized Communist Party formed outside Russia

It was also decided to send a Mexican delegation to the Second Congress of the Comintern that was scheduled to take place in Russia during the following year, 1920. 

In the meantime, Borodin had been regularly sending to reports to Communist International (Comintern) about the developments in Mexico and about Roy’s role. Borodin was also anxious that Roy should attend the Second Congress and meet the leaders of the Russian revolution. And, Lenin, in appreciation of Roy’s efforts and help, invited him to attend the Second Congress of the Communist International to be held in Moscow during Spring of 1920.

Roy later attended the Congress representing the Communist Party of Mexico. That was a big turning point in the life of M.N. Roy. The invitation opened to Roy entry into a fascinating world of his heroes like Lenin, Trotsky and other leaders of the revolution.


The world witnessed great changes during and after the First World War. Russia saw the first revolution launched by the Bolsheviks in 1917, which saw the overthrow of the Czar and the capture of power by Lenin. And, starting from Mexico, the Russian Communist Party established contacts with revolutionaries throughout the world; and, got busy in setting up of the Communist Party outside Russia. M N Roy was very much a part of the expansion of the Communist Party.

Yet; it was not easy for Roy to decide to leave Mexico to which he had developed a strong attachment. Mexico had been very kind and hospitable to him. It had given him a new life, new perspective and new opportunities. It had transformed him from a wandering fugitive to a recognized and respected leader of a Political Party. For the first time in his life he had the support of people in high places, including the President of the country. He had felt safe among his friends, followers and the common people of Mexico. He knew that many would be unhappy at his decision to go away.

Borodin persuaded Roy to accept Lenin’s invitation, with the argument that revolutionary movements, whether in Mexico or in India, was parts of a global struggle which constituted the programme of the Communist International. Roy too was fascinated by the idea of working with the most celebrated revolutionary leaders that the world had ever known.  There was also a hope that Moscow, with the backing of Comintern, would provide him an opportunity to work more effectively towards Indian independence.

 [Further, after the end of the war and the defeat of Germany, Roy had no option but to turn to a new source of support for the revolutionary activities in India.]


Carranza had found in Roy a friend in need; and, perhaps wanted him to stay in Mexico as his friend till the end. Thus, when Roy begged for leave, Carranza, with a heavy heart gave his permission.  The Mexican friends and party men were not willing to him let go, either.

In his Memoirs, Roy paid rich tribute to Mexico and his gratefulness for its kindness and hospitality. He wrote with grace and affection for that country which he called as the land of his re-birth.

“As the day of my departure drew nearer, the feeling of loss grew heavier. I had been in Mexico for two and a half years. But it seemed to as if I had lived there since my childhood. I never had many personal friends. Mexican exuberance, heavily tinged with conventionality, though not always hypocritical, was incompatible with my temperament. Nevertheless, I could not possibly help being moved by the fact that it was an extremely hospitable country; the Government friendly beyond expectation and out of proportion for the little service I could render out of gratitude. And, a large number of highly placed individuals treated me with kindness, consideration and affection.

On the whole, it was a rich and a gratifying experience. In a sense, Mexico was the land of my re-birth.

It is true that before coming to Mexico, I had grown dissatisfied with ideas and ideals of my earlier life. But it was during my stay in Mexico that the new vision became clear and the dissatisfaction with the sterile past was replaced by conviction to guide me in a more promising future.

It was more than a change of political ideas and revolutionary ideas. I acquired a new outlook for life; there was a revolution in my mind – a philosophical revolution , which knew no finality. That fundamental change in the outlook of life enabled me to overcome the emotional attachment to the land of my re-birth.

It dawned on me that Nationalism, whether revolutionary, constitutional, cultural or political, relied mostly on emotion; because, it was intellectually weak. Its appeal, at home as well as at abroad, was not to the head, but to the heart. It tries to move, but not to convince.

I left the land of my re-birth , as an intellectually freeman, though with a new faith. The philosophical solvent of faith was inherent in itself. I no longer believed in political freedom without the content of economic liberation and social  justice. But, I had also realized the intellectual freedom – freedom from the bondage of tradition and authority – was the essential condition for any effective struggle for social emancipation.”


When Roy and Evelyn decided to accept the invitation from Lenin and travel to Moscow, the Mexican President Venustiano Carranza promptly arranged for issue of diplomatic passports to Roy and Evelyn as his special emissaries to travel to Moscow. The Mexico’s representatives in Europe were instructed to render any type of assistance that Roy and Evelyn might need.

In the Mexican diplomatic passports, provided by the President, their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia. Roy’s new alias was borrowed from the name of Jose Allen’s brother (Jose Allen had just then taken over as General Secretary of the new Communist Party of Mexico).  The Roys’ continued to use these passports in Europe , till their break-up in 1925-26.

It was decided that, for reasons of their safety, the Roys’ would not travel directly to Moscow; but, would reach Moscow via Cuba, Spain, and Germany. They would also spend more time in Berlin to gain good experience. It was also decided that Borodin would first leave for Europe along with Charles Phillips (under the name of Jesus Ramirez).  And, the departure of Roys’ would follow shortly afterwards: they were all to meet in Berlin , before going to Moscow.

Their departure from the house in CoIonia Roma was kept secret for a while by getting Carleton Beals to come and live there during the months of November and December, as a sort of decoy. The precaution was necessary to escape the attention of the British Secret Service.

At Carranza’s last meeting with Roy, the old man put his hand on Roy’s shoulder and with suppressed emotion, said, ”You are still very young. Don’t gamble with fate.” Carranza thereupon turned on his heels abruptly and walked away. And Roy’s dalliance with fate was only just about to begin.

(But, as the fate would have it ; in the 1920 Elections , Venustiano Carranza was  overthrown . And, he was later ambushed and treacherously murdered, while trying to escape. That was just a few months after the Roys’ departure from Mexico.)

Finally, in November 1919, after two and a half years in what he later called ‘the land of my rebirth’, Roy left with Evelyn from the port of Veracruz, Mexico’s oldest and largest port on the Eastern edge of the state of Veracruz along the Gulf of Mexico, on board the Spanish transatlantic liner, Alfonso XIII, carrying  Mexican diplomatic passports provided by the President, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.




1. Please see the interesting page “The awesome story behind the name of Mexico City´s wildest nightclub, M.N. Roy” which briefly presents the life of M N Roy in the form of Comic Strip. .. ” This is an attempt, through comics, to find resonance with a deeply unusual man and his ideas. It is, of course, a playful interpretation of his work rather than a scholarly analysis”.

2.Ten years after M.N. Roy had left Mexico, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1898-1948), a Soviet film director and film theorist, a pioneer in the theory and practice of montage, visited Mexico, studied the society and made a film QUE VIVA MEXICO. At the outset, M.N. Roy was shown as one of the main builders of Mexican society. As , by then, Stalin had lost interest in Eisenstein and in Roy,  the picture was not released . Later, after the death of both Stalin and Eisenstein the picture was released in USA during November 1979 . And, it also earned an award.

 3. Another picture that was made on the life of M N Roy was Le Brahmane Du Komintern, a 128 minute film by French Director Vladimir Leon during 2006. The documentary focused on the period of Roy’s life, in Russia (intermittently leading a Comintern delegation in China). I wonder why its title carried the term Brahmin, because, by then, Roy had given up caste and religious affiliations. The film was released in France during 2007 (The documentary received a special award at the film festival at Marseille). The film was later dubbed into English, Spanish and Russian. The English version – ‘The Comintern Brahmin -The Untold Story of M.N.Roy – was released in India International Centre, New Delhi in March 2013.

Please check

an extract from The Brahmin In the Comintern, a 2007 French documentary on M.N. Roy.

From Mexico to Russia, Germany, India, Vladimir Leo goes in search of a great adventurer-philosopher-revolutionary of Bengal: MN Roy. In the countries he visited, his memory seems to have almost completely vanished today, despite the important political role he could play. Founder of a communist party in Mexico for Zapata, leader of the Communist International in the early years of Soviet Russia, anti-Stalinist and anti-Nazi activist in Germany pre-war politician, philosopher and atheist in India independence, the official histories of these countries have preferred to delete the trace. Was it too loose? Was it too lonely? Vladimir Leon chronicles the life of this singular and modest hero who crossed all major milestones of our twentieth century. For this, he takes us on three continents, filming carefully the world as it is, echoing the story of this turbulent political past. In meetings of witnesses, direct or indirect, takes shape the fantastic geographical and philosophical trajectory of MN Roy, if humanly fragile, so farsighted.



Next Part

Sources and References

  1. M.N. Roy: A Political Biography by Samaren Roy; Oriental Longman ; 1997
  2. M N Roy by V.B. Karnik; National Book Trust; 1980
  3. Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939 by John Patrick Haithcox; Princeton University Press; 2015
  4. Encyclopaedia of Eminent Thinkers, Volume 10by K. S. Bharathi; Concept Publishing Co; 1998
  5. Many pages from Wikipedia
  6. Pictures are from Internet

Posted by on January 13, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 05

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 05

Continued from Part 04

 Mexico years – Part One

 After jumping bail and escaping from the American police, Roy along with Evelyn slipped into Mexico by crossing the border at Laredo (one of the oldest crossing points along the U.S.-Mexico border). They entered into Mexico by crossing over the bridge across the Rio Grande and reached the town of Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, in the last week of March 1917.

Nuevo Laredo

They had entered Mexico under their assumed names of Senorita and Senora Evelyn and Manuel Mendez. They stayed in Nuevo Laredo for a few days. And, from Nuevo Laredo, they travelled long (about 1,200 Kms) to reach Mexico City.

When Roy escaped into Mexico in the late March of 1917, he was a fugitive, scared, without money and without friends. The only credential he had was the letter of Introduction to General Salvador Alvarado, the Governor of the Eastern State of Yucatan which was far away from Mexico City. His immediate and utmost concern was to survive and be away from the clutches of British and American Secret Services. . 

Ever since the Chingripota (Bengal) political robbery at the age of twenty he had been a fugitive on the run, frequently changing his hiding places, working as an utterly poor underground revolutionary.  During his escapades he was mostly working alone; and did not have trusted friends. Haunted by police and spies,  he drifted  dangerously , crossing thousands of miles by land and sea in South-East and East Asia and the United States , under different aliases, sustained by a single passion and his extraordinary daring, intelligence and perseverance .  All along he was haunted by fear, sense of insecurity and acute poverty.

During his early months in Mexico his local friends used to call him “the melancholy philosopher from India” who was impervious even to the charm and festive atmosphere of Las Chinampas or to the floating gardens on Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco.

All that changed in a happy way during the next few months. The brief period in Mexico brought several significant changes and developments in the life of Roy.


While Roy was entering Mexico, its civil war had just ended. Though freedom had been achieved, parts of the country were still in disturbed state. Mexico now had a new President who brought in a new constitution, which sought to give more rights to the common people and to the working class. The new Government was generally popular; but, there were also groups actively opposed to the President. There was some unrest in the air.

And by then, the Russian Revolution had just completed and the Bolsheviks had captured power in Russia. The whole of Mexico was thrilled in excitement, as ‘faint echo of that revolution blew across the Atlantic’. All of Mexico’s left wing socialists were in an exuberant mood; and breathed a fresh air charged with great expectations. Roy also was overtaken by the success of the Bolshevik revolution; he was engulfed and sucked up in the electrical atmosphere that charged the whole of Mexico.

It began to dawn on Roy that the old methods of insurgence were not leading anywhere. The socialist concept of revolution appealed to him better. And, it began to dull his keenness to secure arms help from Germans. Yet; at this stage, he still had not entirely given up in the necessity of armed insurrection, to secure India’s freedom.


Upon reaching Mexico City, they were desperate to present the letter of introduction provided by Dr. Jordan of the Stanford University, at Palo Alto, to General Salvador Alvarado, the Governor of the Sate of Yucatán.  Since Mérida, the capital of Yucatán was located on the eastern edge of the Yucatán peninsula and was about 1,300 Kms away from Mexico City, they decided to first approach the government officials at Mexico City. They were successful in getting an interview with the Minister of War (Afinisterio de la Guerra) who happened to be the son-in-law of General Salvador Alvarado. He accepted the letter of introduction the Roys’ presented; and assured that they were safe in Mexico; and were among friends. He also informed them that they need not have to travel all the way to Mérida for the mere purpose of meeting his father-in-law.


During the war, Mexico, technically, was neutral. But, its sympathies were with Germany. Further, the then Mexican President had an aversion towards Britain the ’big bad bully of the world’; and shared a sort of romantic sympathy for ‘Indians’ that the Mexicans always had. And. Mexico’s relation with its big neighbour USA was also rather tense, following Mexican Government’s opposition, in 1915, to U.S. concessions in Mexico. Earlier, in April 1914, the Mexican President Venustiano Carranza had opposed the U.S. occupation of Venezuela. Many American radicals; draft-dodging drifters; ‘slackers’ (as pacifists were called); and, those with weird ideas had taken shelter in Mexico assuming various aliases. And, that Mexico was, in a way, a safe haven for all those who in some way or other had problems with the British and the American spy networks.

Even after Roy and Evelyn crossed over to Mexico, the British and the American intelligence continued to be after Roy. Soon after they arrived in Mexico City and met the Minister of Defense, the British agents informed their American counterparts. The Americans promptly demanded extradition of the Roys’. But, the Mexican Government refused to oblige; and Roy with Evelyn continued to stay in Mexico. Thus, Roy and Evelyn were helped immensely by Mexican Government’s attitude towards Britain and America, as also by the then existing political equations.

Soon after their interview with the Minister of Defense, they rented a house at Calle Córdoba 33 in Mexico City.  On the next day, Roy and Evelyn received an invitation from the Editor of El Pueblo (The People), the almost the official daily of the Mexican Government.  The Editor requested the Roys’ to contribute series of articles on British Rule in India. The two promptly took lessons in Spanish from Enrique Guardiola, a teacher of Spanish. And, in about two months time they had learnt enough Spanish not only to write articles and pamphlets in Spanish but also to speak it fluently.


[Roy translated into Spanish his earlier article The way to durable peace that was an open letter addressed to Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America: and published in America on 17 April , 1917. Its Spanish translation was published in El Pueblo with the title El Camina Para La Paz Duradera del Mundo with insertion of extra passages criticizing the Monroe Doctrine which made Mexico a virtual colony of the USA. The name of its author was given as Manuel Mendez.

This article criticized the economic domination of USA over the countries of South and Central America. It gave a call to the oppressed countries to regain their independence by putting an end to the U.S. dominance. It thus marked the beginning of Roy’s commitment to a revolution which went beyond the confines of the Indian context.

During 1918, Roy published several books, articles and pamphlets in Spanish. One of those was La Voz de la India, which besides the translation of the “the way to durable peace” also included two other pieces — a detailed critique of a book El Despertar de la India (The Awakening of India) by an anonymous author who had sought in it to justify the British rule in India; and the other was a shorter essay to answer the question “Why do the Indian soldiers fight for England?” (Por que los soldados Indios luchan por Inglaterra?)

But, Roy’s more notable work published in December 1918 (by which time Roy was already involved in Mexican politics) was La India: su pasado, su presente y su porvenir (India: her Past, Present and Future). The book running into more than two hundred pages discussed the cultural and political history of India over the centuries. It spoke about : “ India’s unity in diversity and briefly explained how from a fusion of Dravidian and Aryan cultures India developed a tradition which was tolerant and non-aggressive, which respected differences while believing in the unity of the universe, which offered alternative ways of realizing within individual consciousness the ultimate identity of the microcosm and the macrocosm, and which dealt with repeated invasions and conquests by gradually integrating the invaders and conquerors.”

As regards the India in modern times; Roy gave a brief account of the Indian nationalist movement indicating why the hope of the Moderates to achieve India’s freedom through piecemeal reforms with the consent of India’s alien rulers was altogether unrealistic, and why radical nationalists like himself believed that “the only way out was a bloody revolution even though it appears almost hopeless in the present circumstances”.

The  concluding chapter explained how the British had been trying to defeat the nationalist movement by playing the Muslims against the Hindus and how neither the earlier Morley-Minto reforms nor the recently published Montagu-Chelmsford Report offered anything of substance to the Indians; and it reaffirmed the conviction that “India will be free, whether the English liked it or not”. India’s freedom would “assure true liberty to the whole world, putting an end to the attitude of superiority assumed by Europe”.

The La India showed hardly any influence of Marx. There was no reference to Marx’s thesis regarding the “Asiatic mode of production”. And there was also no discussion about conflict of class interests within Indian society. ]


The day after the Roys’ called on the Editor of El Pueblo,  two Germans (one of them, possibly, was Vincent Kraft) whom he knew in Batavia ( Indonesia) contacted Roy and tried to revive the earlier plan of buying  arms from the Chinese rebel groups  and smuggling into India  across the Burmese border. They soon put him in touch with Von Eckhardt and the visiting German privy-councillor, and a fresh scheme to help the Indian revolutionaries was soon devised. It was suggested that a Chinese businessman with good connections in French Indo-China would soon leave for Japan with Roy’s letter for Rashbehari Bose, while a German officer would proceed to East Asia ahead of Roy to do the preliminary work.

 But, this time Roy did not seem enthusiastic about the plan.  By then, he had begun to doubt the possibility of an armed revolution in India with German help. Further, was getting more involved  in the revolution that  was going on in Mexico itself.

But, he had to go along with the German plan. He agreed to go along the German venture. Large sum of money was provided by Germans for purchase of arms from the Chinese.

The Mexican Government too got involved by getting Roy a Mexican passport and a letter of introduction to the Mexican Consul General in Yokohoma, Japan, who would help Roy in completing the financial transaction with the Chinese rebel groups  ( with the mediation  of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who then was taking shelter in Japan) .

Roy soon made preparations for his voyage back to Japan. But, because he was wanted by the American Police, he had to wait for a Japan-bound ship that would not touch any port in U.S.A. He was therefore asked to go first to the Pacific port of Manzanillo and then to Salina Cruz.

According to the plan, Roy reached the deserted  western port of Manzanillo, and from there on travelled to the port of Salina Cruz (about 300 miles to the South), situated near the mouth of the Río Tehuantepec, on the open coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the Gulf of Tehuantepec . Roy was the only person to land at that little port from that ship, which left southwards after a few hours’ stop. Salina Cruz was at that time a small native village, deserted, almost haunted place; not a pretty place; and, its population was largely composed of labourers. 


After Roy had waited at Salina Cruz for several days, news came that the expected ship was not calling at Salina Cruz, carrying a full load from Chile; she had left Panama directly from Honolulu. The next sailing was due after a mouth. Roy writes in his Memoirs: To wait that long was out of the question. The alternative was to take the south-bound boat due in a week or so, go all the way to Valparaiso and return on the same. It was an annoying and disappointing experience; but it was also a relief.

Thus the plan  of smuggling arms into India fell though, as ever, because the Japanese vessel failed to show up. And, Roy  after having waited at the port for several days,  returned to Mexico with the money that Germans gave him.


The failure of this attempt to smuggle arms into India to fight the British, made Roy think about the absurdity and futility of the whole plan. Earlier, in his talks with the Consul General of Germany, in Mexico, he realized that the aim of Imperial Germany was to replace the British Imperialism in India. He pondered that all the Imperialist powers were alike and vied with each other for dominating backward countries.

Roy wrote in his Memoirs: “ It suddenly dawned on me that I really did not want to go again on a wild goose chase. Mexico called me back; there I had made new friends, found new interests and planned to begin a new political career … the way back to old adventures was practically closed”.

 Roy thus decided to stay back in Mexico and get involved in the Socialist politics of Mexico.


Their meeting with German officers and agents in Mexico benefitted Roy and Evelyn to a very great extent.  Through the influence of the Germans, they gained access to the top officials in Mexican Government and to the powerful politicians in Mexican political circles. And, they also came in possession of a large sum of money, thanks to the aborted German scheme of smuggling Chinese arms to India. These helped Roy and Evelyn to lead a secure and a very sumptuous and rich life in Mexico. A part of the money was later used to support and develop the Socialist Party of Mexico; for supporting Bolsheviks and the Russian trade mission in Washington to promote Communist movement in USA; for financing Rash Behari Bose who was marooned in Japan; and, for helping many needy persons.

The money had also paved way of Roy’s cultural reformation and political rehabilitation.

The Roys’ moved into a more spacious house at Merida 186, Colonia Roma (which now had been remodeled and converted into a trendy nightclub bearing the name M.N ROY – 

Roys' house was redesigned by the French architects Emmanuel Picault and Ludwig Godefroy

MN Roy club Mexico

It then came to be guarded by a former transsexual model, actress and singer , with lovely long lingering eyes).

180694_175647035809738_765982_n m_n_roy_mexico_l190711_r5 (1)

The mansion like house, from its balcony provided magnificent view of the distant twin peaks of the dormant volcanic mountains Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The view of Iztaccíhuatl peak partly covered with snow and resembling a reclaiming woman, in particular, fascinated Roy.  And years later, in his Memoirs, he fondly recalled the memory of the ‘Sleeping Woman’ that haunted him.

Iztaccíhuatl peak

The house was tastefully furnished with green satin covered Louis XIV furniture. Their housekeeper Maria ‘a healthy and handsome pure-blooded Mexican woman’ assisted by a muchacho (boy) who performed odd jobs around the house managed the household. By then, Roy had also acquired a beard and “a splendid brown Alsatian … who slept on the floor by my bed just across the open door.” Charles Phillips, an American socialist with a string of aliases, remembered Roy during his Mexican years as “tall, slim, elegant and somber, deadly serious…, very brilliant, a fascinating personality”. Another of Roy’s acquaintance in Mexico City during this period, was Carlton Beals, who described Roy as: tall, with long, slim expressive hands and black-white eyes that flashed out of his dark face; and as person with boundless energy who mastered enough Spanish in a few months to write pamphlets and speak from platform”.

images (2)

Maria was an excellent cook and entertained their guests with tasty Mexican dishes.  The guests at his parties included intellectuals; journalists; writers; artists; actors; musicians; German and Mexican officials and diplomats some of whom were close to president Carranza; American radicals escaping from draft; and,  a number of socialist and leftwing thinkers and workers.  Roy and Evelyn were very good hosts. They did greatly enjoy hosting such parties at their home; and were captivated by the warmth and friendliness of the Mexicans who were remarkably free from racial prejudice.


Mexico, its social environment and Evelyn brought about remarkable changes in the personal life, the habits, the interests and the general outlook of Roy.

In Mexico for the first time he had a home of his own where a woman who adored him and shared his ideals, brought him new insights and experience of happiness.  Roy who all along had been bogged down by poverty led in Mexico a sumptuous and rich life. Roy who earlier was a lone fugitive, enjoyed in Mexico  the support and friendship of common people as also of those in high places including the President of the Republic and the Rector of the University. All these were strange and unbelievably real experiences for him.

The period of about two and a half years (March 1917 – November 1919) that Roy and Evelyn lived in Mexico were perhaps the most wonderfully delightful  and magical years in their life.  It was in Mexico Roy, acquired a love for life and a new set of friends and acquaintances who exerted a lasting influence on his life and his ways of thinking.  It was his life and experiences as also the environment in Mexico that totally transformed Roy into the person that the world later came to know.

The Mexican experience was for Roy a sort of liberation from pre-conceived notions of culture, nationalism etc. When he had left India he was a political ascetic with strong puritanical taboos and an intense distrust of Western civilization. But, while in Mexico, outgrowing his ‘cultural nationalism’, he entered into a whole new world of painting, art, music; discovered European civilization and culture; learnt European languages of Spanish, German and French.  As his interests grew, he acquired and developed a fairly intimate knowledge of literature, art and western music. He learnt to socialize with groups of friends, among whom were socialists, intellectuals as also men-of-the world; and listen, in their company, to the great Cellist Pablo Casals’s music and the majestic voice of Enrico Caruso the renowned Italian operatic tenor, who then was touring Mexico. The singer wife of Pablo Casals taught him music appreciation. Maestro Cassas, the Rector of the University, introduced him to the world of European literature. And, the artist wife of a German merchant (who is said to have done a portrait of Roy) gave him lessons on art and art-appreciation.   Evelyn and his friends introduced him to the subtleties of the game of Chess. Another German, Dr. Gramatsky, a philologist, and his wife who came to in their house in CoIonia Roma taught them French and German.  With encouragement of his friends, Roy discovered the rich intellectual and literary heritage of modern Europe reflected in the works of Cervantes, Kant, Voltaire and such others.  Later, Roy wrote: with each passing day, it became painfully clear how uneducated and how ignorant I had been.

Along with appreciation of music, fine arts and literature, Roy learnt to appreciate and enjoy the good things of life, from rare European wines to Chinese menu. He also learnt to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the delights of refined recreational activities, stimulating conversations and intellectual pursuits.  The external world, the influence of friends and the sensory stimulant  – food he had not tasted before;  the works of art, music which he had not heard of ; and,  body of literature that was unknown to him- – enlarged Roy’s interaction with the people around him. All these were totally new and enthralling experiences to Roy who most of his life, till then, was a lone puritan fugitive in a hurry chasing an eluding dream.

[Even after he returned to  India , joined Congress and began wearing Khaddar , Roy  continued to love good food and drinks; enjoying evenings with friends and admirers drinking and narrating anecdotes of the famous persons he met while he was in Europe . His narrations were laced with humor, understanding and without bitterness.]

The newly developed Epicureanism did not corrupt Roy either mentally or physically. Because, as he saw it, neither did socialism nor radicalism preclude enjoyment of life’s gifts and its many refinements.

It was Mexico and Evelyn that intellectually liberated Roy; broadened his attitude and outlook towards life; and, transformed him into a truly cosmopolitan person with a new cultural sensitivity. He developed a more open approach and a new outlook to life. Much credit must be given to Evelyn in transforming Roy’s sensibility while in Mexico.

That formative period in Mexico was a very important phase in his life. It molded him as a person and as an intellectual with a perceptive understanding of life.

I am rather surprised that many of his biographies skip or gloss over the magical years that Roy and Evelyn lived and enjoyed in Mexico.  This was the period that made the personality of MN Roy. As far as I know, only Sibnarayan Ray in Volume I of his “In Freedom’s Quest: a Study of the Life and Works of M.N. Roy (1887-1954)” has devoted a chapter to Roy’s life in Mexico.  This part of my article is mainly based on that Chapter.



When Roy left India during 1915 in search of arms to fight the British in India, his views about revolution and international relations were still naïve. It was mainly his life, his experiences and his learning in Mexico that dispelled many of his old ideas and transformed him into an articulate theoretician.

The Mexican years brought about huge changes in Roy’s political philosophy and the methods which he regarded as effective in ushering a new social order , just and equitable, paving way for Man’s freedom.

After his experiences in USA and Mexico, Roy was a thoroughly changed person. His ideas about revolution were drastically revised. He also had lost the urge to return to India forthwith. Now, he believed that revolutions are brought about by social forces. His perspective of the process of revolution in India was in terms of social reformation.

Thus, Roy’s stay in Mexico was of great significance in his intellectual and political development. He wrote:

“My ideas of revolution and political activity changed during my stay in the United States of America. But the sojourn there was too short for me to put the new ideas into practice. In Mexico, I got the opportunity. For the first time I came in contact with a mass revolutionary movement.”

 “Mexico was the land of my rebirth. It is true that before coming there I had begun to feel dissatisfied with ideas and ideals of my earlier life. But it was during my stay in Mexico that the new vision became clear and the dissatisfaction with a sterile past was replaced by a conviction to guide me in a more promising future. “

He later said: I left the land of my re-birth an intellectually freeman, though with a new faith.

It is no wonder then that M N Roy called Mexico as the land of his re-birth; and cherished a longing and a love for that country till his last days. 




 Next Part


Sources and References

  1. M.N. Roy: A Political Biography by Samaren Roy; Oriental Longman ; 1997
  2. M N Roy by V.B. Karnik; National Book Trust; 1980
  3. Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939 by John Patrick Haithcox; Princeton University Press; 2015
  4. Encyclopaedia of Eminent Thinkers, Volume 10by K. S. Bharathi; Concept Publishing Co; 1998
  5. Many pages from Wikipedia
  6. Pictures are from Internet

Posted by on January 13, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 04

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 04

Continued From Part 03

 In the United States of America

After series of disappointments, failures and aimless wandering as a fugitive over the whole of South East for about eighteen months, Narendra Nath set sail to USA in pursuit of his  incomplete mission to secure German arms to fight the British in India, which he termed  it as the pursuit  of the elusive Golden Fleece.

Narendra Nath, thus, traveled to America primarily to negotiate an Arms deal ; and, to secure funds from Germany to fuel the Indian revolutionaries. The Germans had promised that arms would be routed to India through the resident Indians in California. During those days, the West Coast of USA was an active hub for revolutionary activities attempting to secure Indian Independence through armed uprising against the British Rule. The Germans also provided support to the revolutionaries.

early Indian immigrants to USA 1909

Courtesy Janos

[The core of the revolutionaries in California was allied with Ghadar Party founded by Punjabi Indians resident in the United States and Canada (Ghadar = revolt or rebellion). The Ghadar Party, initially named as the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, was formed in San Francisco  during 1913  under the leadership of  Lala Har Dayal, Sant Baba Wasakha Singh Dadehar, Baba Jawala Singh, Santokh Singh and with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president. The members of the Party were Indian immigrants mainly from Punjab; and, many among them were students, traders and farmers. The Party enjoyed wide support among the large Indian community residing in California, including the prosperous Sikh cotton growers in the Imperial Valley. Though predominantly Sikh, the party included members and leaders of many religions desiring to work for Indian Independence. The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, even from outside the United States, such as:  Canada, East Africa and Asia.


After the outbreak of World War I, many Ghadar party members in USA and Canada returned to Punjab to agitate for rebellion alongside the Babbar Akali Movement. The Party was eventually dissolved in 1919.]

With the help of Japanese intelligence, on 25 May 1916, Naren boarded the ship named Nippon Maru departing from Yokahoma (Japan) in Tokyo Bay, South of Tokyo and destined to San Francisco, California.

He had used the French-India passport given to him by the Germans in China. And, with the help from Japanese, he had obtained an American Visa to travel to USA on his way to Paris, France.

The passport was issued in the name of Martin Charles Allen; and, it described its holder as a 25 years male, single, Roman Catholic missionary;  Bengali by birth, a native of Chandernagore, as such a French citizen, and lived at Pondicherry only for a few years with the object of coming closer to France ; Nationality: French. Permanent address: Church, Pondicherry, India; height 6 foot. Dark, brown eyes, beard; Place of birth: Haites; City: Ionainis. Final destination: Paris.

The purpose of the Visa was to travel to Paris (Via USA) for advanced theological studies in Notre Dame University.

roy-mn as Father Rev Martin

The bearded Roman Catholic priest Rev. Father Charles Martin Allen, clutching thick Morocco bound Bible and posing as a seminary student landed in San Francisco on 15 June 1916. (Naren at that time was about 28 years old although his passport mentioned his age as 25 years). Nippon Maru was scheduled to land at San Francisco on 14 June 1916, but was delayed by one day.

On his arrival, Rev. Charles Martin Allen stayed in Bellevue hotel in San Francisco.  

The British Secret Service (particularly, Mr. GC Denham, an Intelligence Officer of the Central Criminal Intelligence Department) perhaps had an inkling of his flight to USA. It is believed that throughout his stay in USA, Narendra Nath was shadowed by British Intelligence. The morning after he landed in San Francisco, the local newspaper carried the headline screaming: ‘Mysterious Alien reaches America. Famous Brahmin Revolutionary or Dangerous German Spy !  ?’.

At the same time, there were also other reports in the local press.

The local Press The San Francisco Examiner that called on him at Bellevue hotel, reported: “Rev C.A. Martin, a native of Pondicherry, India, is at Bellevue. The visitor who is a Roman Catholic has spent the last two years as a missionary and a student in China. He is en route to Paris where he will enter one of the Seminaries. He describes the condition in China as one of “unlimited chaos”


Any sort of publicity was not welcome to Naren. Therefore, after a couple of days in Bellevue, he quickly moved out to meet his contacts in USA. And , there on the campus of the Stanford University, Palo Alto , he met the young Dhan Gopal Mukerji (younger brother of the revolutionary Jadugopal Mukherjee  and  a contact for Bengali revolutionaries) ; the ‘young and attractive’  Evelyn Trent (his future wife) a graduate student at Stanford University; Prof  Arthur Upham Pope a professor of Philosophy at U C Berkeley;  and Dr. David Starr Jordan(1851–1931), Chancellor and the Founding President  of the Stanford University.

[ Before we go further , let me digress for a while and talk about Dhan Gopal Mukerji , briefly:

Dhan Gopal Mukerji

Dhan Gopal Mukerji (July 6, 1890 – July 14, 1936), is regarded as the first successful Indian man of letters in the United States; and, the first Indian winner of Newbery Medal 1928. He studied at Duff School (now known as Scottish Church Collegiate School, a constituent unit of Scottish Church College, Calcutta); the University of Calcutta, in India; Tokyo University in Japan; and , at the University of California, Berkeley ; and , at the Stanford University in the U.S.

After his graduation from Stanford University in 1914, he taught for a short time at Stanford as a lecturer in the field of comparative literature.

It is said; Dhan Gopal throughout his life strove to complete the task he had set himself: to emancipate India from foreign rule; and win for her culture and philosophy the respect he felt it deserved. In America he associated with fellow exiles like M.N. Roy, to whom he is said to have suggested adopting the pseudonym ‘Manabendra‘.

In June 1918 he married Ethel Ray Dugan (aka. Patty), an Irish American , who hailed from Hazleton , Pennsylvania. She had entered Stanford University in the fall of 1914 to pursue Masters Degree in History. It is said; Mukerji and Patty made a handsome, lovely and vivacious couple. And, they were quite active in the literary circles of California. Not long after Mukerji left Stanford, the couple moved to Los Angles. Thereafter, they moved on to the East Coast of the USA, which, then, had a fairly considerable number of persons pursuing literary careers, reflecting the intellectual vibrancy of American intellectual life of the early Twentieth Century.   

The Mukerjis stayed in Boston for a while; and, then moved to New York. The couple had a son, Dhan Gopal II (Jr), their only child .He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in August 1919.


Over the years, Mukerji published plays and collections of poetry. He wrote, with Mary Carolyn Davies, Chintamini: A Symbolic Drama (1914), adapted from a play by Girish C. Ghose; the play Layla-Majnu (1916); the poetry collections Rajani: Songs of the Night (1916) and Sandhya: Songs of Twilight (1917); and the play The Judgment of India (1922).

In the 1920s and 1930s, Mukerji published a number of works about India and Hinduism, including My Brother’s Face (1924), the novel The Secret Listeners of the East (1926), A Son of Mother India Answers, (1928), and The Path of Prayer (1934).

He wrote numerous books and stories for children, most of which describe the animal life of India and the Indian lore and beliefs. In 1923 he released his second children’s book, Jungle Beasts and Men, a series of short stories that give a realistic view of the jungle and its inhabitants. His Hari, the Jungle Lad, published in 1924, is about a young Indian boy who goes with his father on hunting expeditions and encounters wild buffalo, a panther, and other jungle creatures.

Mukerji is also well known for his autobiography Caste and Outcast, which tells the story of his life in India and America.


Dhan Gopal Mukerji is probably the first popular Indian writer in English. He pre-dates G.V. Desani and Mulk Raj Anand by some ten or twenty years. 

In spite of his many friends he felt deeply isolated and marginalized in America, as he could do very little, beyond raising funds and entertaining visiting celebrities, to further the cause of Indian liberty.

The restless couple – Mukerji and Patty – traveled to India in the summer of 1922. It was Mukerji’s first visit back to India in twelve years; and, he was eager to acquaint himself with the current political situation and the national movement for gaining India’s freedom. He met and discussed with number of prominent leaders and intellectuals. Politically he was a member of the Indian independence movement.

After the visit lasting several months, Mukerjis returned to New York; and, settled in Greenwich Village, where they resided for   the next two years.

After Mukerji returned from India, he dedicated himself to promoting greater awareness of his country’s many different cultures. He, among other things, tried to raise funds to support Rabindranath Tagore’s educational efforts in India.

The mid and late 1920s  were the most productive period in the lives of the Mukerjis. The years following  his return from India witnessed Mukerji as a busy and successful author and speaker on wide ranging subjects , such as literature, philosophy , history, nationalism etc. The well reputed Universities in the USA eagerly welcomed him.

This period also marked the publication of his much acclaimed book Caste and Outcaste (1923) , which is said to have marked a turning point in America’s understanding of India , its culture and ethos.

In 1926, Mukerji and Patty moved to Geneva, where they lived for about two years ; ostensibly to be near to their son who was enrolled in a Boarding School there. While at Geneva, Mukerji took keen interest in the working of the United Nations; and, also befriended many leaders and intellectuals.

After Dhan and Patty returned to the United States in 1928, they moved to a comfortable Apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. Patty was busy with her own career, working at Children’s Universities and Schools. Dhan Gopal was also busy and successful.

Despite his growing success; Mukerji was troubled by events both at home and in India; disrupting his emotional and intellectual life. He also got into a bitter and angry debate with the infamous Katherine Mayo who had published her Mother India (1927), disparaging India’ and, which Gandhi called it as a ‘drain pipe study’.

The stock market crash during the 1930s exacerbated Mukerjis problems and mounting frustration.

The choices he had made in life prevented him from ever returning permanently to India.

During 1935, Dhan Gopal suffered a severe breakdown.

 Following a six-month nervous breakdown, Mukerji committed suicide by hanging himself in his New York City apartment on 14 July of 1936.

 (Please do read the Introduction – titled Life and Death of  Dhan Gopal Mukerji- by Gordon H Chang to Caste and Outcaste by Dhan Gopal Mukerji ( Stanford University Press, 2002)


Stanford was also the place where Lala Har Dayal had lived and established contacts with the Anarchists. And, Dhangopal had also come under his influence for a while. And, Prof. Arthur Upham Pope who had met Har Dayal in 1911 had become an ardent advocate of India’s freedom; and, had also developed links with Indian revolutionaries.

It was there on the Campus of the Stanford University, Palo Alto in 1916 that, on the suggestion of Dhan Gopal, Narendra Nath Bhattacharya formally assumed the name Manabendra Nath Roy; and, that name stuck to him for the rest of his life.

It said; the surname Roy was chosen since it did not signify a caste –name such as Bhattacharya; and that it would also help cover his tracks as an exile. And, yet Manabendra Nath sounded almost similar to Narendra Nath.

 [MN Roy in his Memoirs said that the change in name enabled him to turn back on a futile past and look forward to a new life of achievements. And yet, he could not give up his mission of securing arms for revolution in India. It continued to haunt him even while he was in USA and Mexico. It was only after he found that Germans were really not earnest about broad-based revolution; and more particularly on his realization of the power of the ideas over arms that he finally gave up the search for arms. And, he had also lost faith in arms uprising.

Even in case he had succeeded in despatching arms to India it would have been futile. Because, by about 1917-18 the struggle for Independence had taken political turn; and, the police repression had almost driven out insurgent outfits. ]

Soon thereafter, Roy rented a house nearby and stayed there for about six months at Ramona, Palo Alto.  

While in Palo Alto, Roy found that there were some American intellectuals and academicians in the Universities who had considerable interest and sympathy for India. At the University of California, Berkley, there were at that time several such academiciansHe also gained friends among the pacifists who were opposed to imperialism. For the first time, Roy came in contact with persons free from nationalism and its obligations.

At the time that Roy was staying at Ramona, Palo Alto, he was not aware that his landlady Mrs. Noble was the mother of the Police Chief of Palo Alto. In the beginning the police did not know who Roy was; but they had begun to suspect.


Following that alarm bell,  Roy and Evelyn Trent  together hurriedly moved to New York , in January 1917 , where they met Lala Lajpat Rai  ( 1865 -1928) * the legendary Indian freedom fighter and revolutionary, renowned as  Punjab Kesari (the Lion of Punjab) and one among the famous Lal Bal Pal trio ( Lala Lajpat Rai; Bala Gangadhar Tilak ; and  Bipin Chandra Pal ).

* [Lala Lajpat Rai lived in USA for about twelve years from 1907; and, returned to India in 1919. On his return, he actively participated in Freedom Movement and in bringing about social reforms. He founded the Servants of the People Society, which worked for social reform and for India’s freedom. And, Lala was also active in the Labour movement. He presided over the first session of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1920. He went to Geneva to attend the eighth International Labour Conference in 1926 as a representative of Indian Labour.

He was not only a good orator but was also a prolific writer. His journal Arya Gazette was devoted mainly to subjects related to the Arya Samaj.  His other magazines: Bande Mataram and The People, carried articles regarding the Freedom movement.

And, while he was leading a non-violent protest against the Simon Commission, he sustained serious injuries in a police-action on 30 October 1928. Though he recovered for a while, he eventually succumbed to the injuries; and, died three weeks later on 17 November 1928.]

Lala Lajpat Rai-Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak-Bipin Chandra Pal

Roy’s visit to New York was significant in many ways: he fell in love with Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892 – 1970) and married her; he came in contact with many Socialists and he himself became a socialist; and it was in the New York City public library that he gained acquaintance with writings of Karl Marx and his doctrine; learnt about Marxism and began to develop a deep interest in its doctrine.

Evelyn fell in love with dark, thin tall, handsome, bright, dark eyed and very poor Indian; and, asked him to marry her. Roy and Evelyn got married in 1917 at New York.  And, they resided, for some months, at 2116, Daley Avenue.


Evelyn  Trent  Roy

Evelyn was a great asset to Roy, supporting and moulding him.  She later became his political collaborator; and accompanied him to Mexico and Russia. She co-authored with Roy a couple of books; and, she edited and wrote from time to time in Leftist journals under the pen-name Shanti Devi. Socialism and Marxism together with Evelyn Trent’s influence totally changed the further course of his life. Roy and Evelyn, the two worked closely for some years. And, Evelyn, along with Roy played an important role in the formation of the Mexican Communist Party; the exile communist party of India in Tashkent; and in the International Communist movement.

Roy and Evelyn lived together for about eight years before they parted ways silently in 1925.  But, strangely, Roy did not mention even a word about Evelyn in his Memoirs. Several years later; when the house of Evelyn Trent was burnt down in 1963,  in its  remains was found a photograph of Roy with an inscription on its back: To my Goddess from her  loving worshipper“]

Evelyn had, in fact, married Roy, a Hindu revolutionary and a fugitive, much against the wishes of her family. They did not accept Roy or their daughter’s marriage with him. There was therefore no support from Evelyn’s family.Her brother in particular who strongly opposed her marriage with Roy made it difficult for them to live in one place.  The Hindu groups too despised Roy for having married a foreigner and a non-Hindu. Life in New York had become very difficult because of lack of money, bad relations with Indian nationalists and constant scrutiny and survey by American and British Intelligence agencies. The Roys’ had to move from place to place to avoid harassment. After their house on Daley Avenue   , they stayed in 239 E 19th St. and later rented an apartment in 19th West 44th St. in New York. Roy had given the Ceylon Restaurant as his care of address (672, 8th Ave) to receive his mail. And, sometimes they had to stay apart to avoid police-attention. And, at the end, they had to seek shelter in the residence of Lala Lajpath Rai.

Lajpath Rai later wrote that Roy and Evelyn, in particular, had to face much hostility and humiliation both from Hindu nationalists and Evelyn family. Lajpath Rai sympathized with their plight and allowed them to live in his house. He also helped them with $ 350, out which $50 was payment to Roy for some work he did for Lajpath Rai.  He had also Evelyn as secretary for a short period  and paid her some amount as a token help.


It is said; at a meeting of socialists, Lala Lajpath Rai spoke eloquently about the poverty of Indian peasants. One of the audience remarked: what difference does it make if Indian farmers are exploited by native capitalists or by foreign imperialists? Rai replied, saying: it does make a difference whether one is kicked by ones brother or by a foreign robber. Roy who was present at the meeting was not impressed with Lajpat Rai’s reply.

The questions asked by the audience in these meetings made Roy wonder whether exploitation and poverty would cease in India with the attainment of independence. He realized that revolutions take place out of the necessity of the times and its urges. He came to believe that India needed a social revolution not mere national Independence. It began to dawn on him that the old methods of insurgence were not leading anywhere. Further, he began to ponder that the aim of Imperial Germany was to replace the British Imperialism in India; and, all the Imperialist powers are alike and vie with each other for dominating backward countries.  He began to doubt the scheme of armed revolution in India with German help. And, it dulled his keenness to secure arms from Germans. The socialist concept of revolution appealed to him better. He began to think of revolution as an international social necessity. And, it strengthened his resolve to go deeper into socialism.

Although Roy was in contact with some Indian revolutionaries who were in league with Germans, his stay in New York helped him in forging association with American socialists..

His gaining familiarity with socialism started with his coming into contact with many American socialists and other radicals.  He took keen interest in the study of socialism; and came to accept it wholeheartedly. While in New York, Roy wrote an essay ‘A Critique of Pacifism’ which basically said that colonization was the cause of the war and the liberation of the subject peoples was the way to durable peace. He, among other things, analyzed the economic causes of war. Roy’s essay appealed to American Radicals; and it paved his way to into their organization

 Roy did not suddenly leap on to socialism. He went through several phases of experiences. Roy, in fact, began his study of socialism, with the intention of combating it; but, at the end, he discovered that he had himself become a socialist. The change came about gradually and painfully.

In a way, Roy continued to be revolutionary even after conversion to Socialism. The revolution he now came to envision was the re-structuring of the Indian society and ushering in a new social order. It went beyond overthrowing British Rule in India. The social revolution, in his vision, involved all segments of the society, not merely a band of some inspired brave fighters.

The transition from nationalism to socialism was a big leap. It marked his departure from the ideals that he cherished in the past, inspired mostly by the writings of Bankimchandra. Yet, it could be said that his nationalist phase – romantic, adventurous, idealistic and constricted – did not go in vain. It later helped Roy in a gaining a perspective of a near-ideal political order that was away from nationalism, dictatorship and the sort of parliamentary democracy that was then in practice. 

The socialist way of thinking helped Roy in getting over his outlook as a nationalist. Communism, to him, seemed to offer effective means for achieving the goals of Socialism. He developed an interest in the works of Marx and his doctrine through his studies in New York Public Library. However, at this time, his conversion to communism was far from complete. That had to wait till his indoctrination by Michel Borodin in Mexico.

His transformation into a Communist under the tutorship of Borodin was rather quick, though, initially, he had some difficulty in accepting the materialism of Marx. It was only after Borodin explained the intricacies of Hegelian dialectics as the key to Maxims that he could accept the doctrine.


By about mid February 1917, America was seriously gearing up to join the war against Germany. The American and British intelligence as also the local police in several parts of USA (particularly in California, New York and Chicago) intensified their vigil against pro-German activities. On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany. The House concurred two days later. On April 6, 1917, the Congress declared war against Germany.

After America’s entry into War, any type of pro-German activity or links with Germans became virtually impossible. Roy thereafter went underground to escape arrest and a possible deportation to India. It was during this period that Roy re-wrote his famous easy; ’ An open letter to His Excellency Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America: The way to durable peace’. This letter was afterwards published on April 17, 1917 when Roy and Evelyn had already crossed over to Laredo on Mexican side of the border. 

 [The letter was later translated into Spanish and published in Mexico as El Camina Para La Paz Duradera del Mundo with insertion of extra passages criticizing the Monroe Doctrine which made Mexico a virtual colony of the USA.]

In his  letter to President  Woodrow Wilson , Roy had  compared Indian revolutionaries to the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth century ; and in doing so, tried to justify the seeking of German assistance by certain, mainly militant, section of the Indian nationalists. He compared their efforts to that of La Fayette who secured French help in the American Revolutionary War. Roy pleaded that whatever efforts that Indian revolutionaries made either through Germans or others was for securing independence of their Motherland from foreign rule; and, it certainly was not against the interests of the American nation, in any manner.

The British Intelligence and the American police were keeping a watch on Roy’s movements.  The net was closing in over USA -Pro German revolutionaries and also on the revolutionaries of Indian origin. They were systematically were rounded up.  Things came to a head when the British spies broke into Roy’s room while he was away and seized some letters and papers.  On the next day that is on 7 March 1917 Roy was eventually arrested.  Roy, at that time, was on the Campus of the Columbia University to where he had gone after attending a meeting addressed by Lala Lajpath Rai.

Roy had to spend a few hours of the night (7 Mar 1917) before he was released in the early hours of the morning and asked to appear before the Grand Jury in the Town Hall, a few hours later. The Grand Jury indicted him for violating the immigration Laws of the USA and pending trial released him on bail on his personal surety.

Roy however had no intention of returning to the trial. Roy left the court determined not to return. He was desperate to escape attention and arrest. He knew that he would be taken to San Francisco and tried there as a conspirator. But, his worse fear was deportation to India for standing trial which would result in long imprisonment or death sentence for the many acts of terror he had committed in India until 1915.

Roy had to choose between Canada and Mexico. It was then, prompted by Evelyn, that he seriously considered escaping to Mexico. He had heard from his socialist friends about Mexico; the social revolution brewing there; and establishment of socialism in one its parts Yucatan. Mexico, to him, appeared as the Land of Promise.

Evelyn and Roy soon travelled by train from New York to San Francisco, a distance of about 3,300-miles. And, during 1917 the journey might have taken nearly a week’s time.  


Evelyn Trent then approached her teacher and friend, Dr. David Starr Jordan, President of the Stanford University, at Palo Alto, for help. Dr, Jordan was prepared to make it easy for Roys to find a refuge in the neighboring Mexico; and, he readily gave them a letter of introduction to the Governor of the  State of Yucatan , General Salvador Alvarado  , a powerful person in Mexican politics . That indeed was an immense, immeasurable help. Roy’s biographers wonder, there is no reason why Dr, Jordan , a President of an University,  would have anything to do with a dangerous Indian fugitive who had violated American laws and was still at large evading both British and American police , and helped him to escape , had  he  not been impressed with young Roy and his mission.

It is likely that Dr. Jordan was primarily trying to rescue his favorite student from a bad situation that was getting worse.

 The Mexican border was just about thousand miles away from San Francisco; and was not closely watched. Roy and Evelyn gave a slip to the police; and took the train from San Francisco to Laredo, Texas, a distance of about 1,800 miles. Evelyn Trent and M N Roy crossed the border at Laredo (one of the oldest crossing points along the U.S.-Mexico border) and entered Mexico by crossing over the bridge across the Rio Grande and reached the town of Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, in the last week of March 1917 (distance of about 13 Kms across the border).  They entered Mexico under their assumed names of Senorita and Senora Evelyn and Manuel Mendez. From Nuevo Laredo, they travelled long (about 1,200 Kms) to reach Mexico City.


The ten months that Roy spent in America were very tense and hurried. He also had to face poverty and suffer contempt and distrust from the Hindu nationalist groups in USA. Roy and Evelyn had also to endure harassment from Evelyn’s brother. Further, they were closely watched by the British and American Intelligence. The couple grew more anxious and tense by each passing day.  They realized that they no longer were safe in America. That fear was confirmed after Roy was arrested along with several other Indian freedom fighters.

Roy later said that his stay in USA was too brief and too hurried to react to that country.

But, his stay in America had a brighter side too. It was here that he acquired a new identity that stayed with him for the rest of his life. He gained good friends who helped him in his distress and even rescued him from utmost danger. He transformed from a diehard nationalist to a socialist; and also gained familiarity with Communist doctrine, in which he later became an acknowledge authority. It was in America that Roy realized the power of ideas over that of arms. It transformed him into a catalyst for social change and political re-alignment. That was a huge change, because Roy had come to America basically to secure arms and money from Germany to fight against the British Rule in India.

And, above all, the biggest good that happened to Roy in America was falling in love and marrying Evelyn Leonora Trent, bright, intelligent and full of love. Evelyn became Roy’s trusted friend, ardent supporter, political collaborator and a guide.  She accompanied Roy to Mexico and Russia; and was of great help to him in his political and literary work. The collaboration continued until they separated in 1925. Socialism and Marxism together with Evelyn Trent were the greatest influences in Roy’s life; they together totally changed the course of his life and the ways of his thinking.


However, an unfortunate victim of being Roy’s friend while he was in America was Prof Arthur Upham Pope, a professor of Philosophy at UC Berkley. Roy and Prof. Pope became friends while Roy was in Palo Alto. And, they continued to be friends even after Roy’s escape to Mexico.  Prof. Pope remained his main contact in USA.

Prof. Pope had to pay a heavy price for his sympathy and support to MN Roy. After  the Hindu-German-Conspiracy case  was instituted in San Francisco , Prof Pope was investigated ;  and , he came under severe criticism for his relation with the ‘ a Hindu revolutionary, a ruthless man steeped in crime, and one of the most violent revolutionaries that India had ever produced’. The prosecution Attorney for the Northern California District wondered why a professor in a prestigious University should have had connection of any sort with such a person.

Prof. Pope was interrogated during the San Francisco trial. He was pressurized to resign from his Professorship in UC Berkley and later from his teaching job in Amherst College. He had also to give up his next job in the War Department because of his connections to MN Roy who was in league with the enemies, the Germans and Japanese.


Before ending this part, let me say a few words about the The Hindu–German Conspiracy (also known as the Indo German plot or US Vs Bopp, Ram Chandra et al) – described, at that time, as the longest and most expensive trial ever held in the United States.

As said earlier, following America’s entry into the War, all types of activities that had links with Germany came under severe scrutiny. The British Intelligence was also hugely interested in blocking anti British activities launched from America and such other places. They were also keen on arresting and deporting those terrorists who had escaped from India and taken shelter in America.


The Hindu–German Conspiracy  was a series of plans formulated between 1914 and 1917 to initiate a rebellion against the British Raj during World War I. That was considered an opportune time to attack the British rule in India. It was planned as a multi-pronged attack centered on the nationalist rebel groups in India. The other Indian groups based outside India that were involved in the plan were mainly the Ghadar Party in the California region of USA and the Indian independence committee in Germany. The attack plan which came to be labeled as conspiracy had the support of foreign forces such as the Irish Republican movement, the German Foreign Office, and the German Consulate in San Francisco. The Ottoman Turkey was also involved to some extent.

The ambition of the plot was to foment unrest and trigger a Pan-Indian mutiny in the British Indian Army from Punjab to Singapore . It was planned to be executed in February 1915 with the hope of overthrowing the British Raj from the Indian sub-continent. 

The mutiny  that was planned in February was thwarted when British intelligence infiltrated the Ghadar movement; and, arrested key figures. Mutinies in smaller units and garrisons within India were also crushed.

The other segments of the plot were also busted. Such failed plots included the 1915 Singapore Mutiny ; the Jugantar-German plot led by Bagha Jatin; the German mission to Kabul; and,  the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in India. The efforts to subvert the British Indian Army in the Middle-Eastern theatre of World War I did not also come through.

The British intelligence having an efficient and a wide network spread over its vast empire successfully thwarted several plots and sub-plots of the Indo-Irish-German conspiracy. It also had the support of the American intelligence agencies which arrested key figures in the aftermath of the Annie Larsen affair in 1917.

The criminal cases filed against the conspirators were tried at Lahore in India and in San Francisco in USA as the Hindu German Conspiracy Trial.

The trial at San Francisco was brought mainly due to pressure from the British Government. It presented over two hundred witnesses brought from several parts of the world. It is said; the trial cost the British Indian Government over $ 2.5 Million. The US government had also to incur substantial expenditure of $ 450,000.


[The trial which lasted 155 days, was a media spectacle; and, was covered widely in Washington Post, The San Francisco Examiner and other papers. Even after the trial was over the Case continued to be discussed in America: The Hindu Conspiracy, 1914-1917,” The Pacific Historical Review 17 (1948): 308-09; Karl Hoover, “The Hindu Conspiracy in California, 1913-1918,” German Studies Review 8 (1985): 258-59. Please also click here.

On the Indian side, Lajpat Rai, N.S. Hardiker, Mrinalini Sen, and Ananda Coomaraswamy, later wrote articles in the monthly journal titled Young India.

On December 5, 1917, Marshall Woodworth an Attorney sent his poem (Weaving the Noose) on the trial to John Preston, the lead prosecutor in the case:

It looks as if the noose were tied
The sword of Justice at their side

All that’s to come will knit the knot
And bring to light a devilish plot

As fear can neither fight nor fly
What they’ve contrived is doomed to die

When whispering conspirators are noosed
The days of vengeance are unloosed

Now some are seen to look behind
And not a few will change their mind

The Bard of Avon truly said,– where death doth dwell,
A perjured refuge is a living hell]


 In the trial which commenced in the District Court , Northern District ,  California in San Francisco on November 12, 1917, charges were framed against one hundred and six defendants (including thirty-six Indians) , German Consulate officials besides American businessmen and professionals. The Note presented by John Preston , the lead prosecutor , Northern District Court of California, First Division cited three basic violations of the neutrality law    : providing and preparing means for a military expedition against the state or territory or the colony with whom the United States was at peace; twenty-eight counts of conspiracy to violate neutrality law; and, violations of the military expedition law prohibiting enlistment to fight against a foreign army with which the United States is at peace.

The Indian Nationalists – centered in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, in contact with each other and with German Consul and agents – were accused of taking “advantage of American neutrality to plot on American soil against the allies” at “the expense of the laws and hospitality of the United States. The charge also mentioned that in a nationwide conspiracy financed by the Kaiser and promulgated through the Berlin Foreign Office to ferment rebellion  and revolt in India  and to aid Germany in the prosecution of war by compelling Great Britain to divert essential troops from Europe in order to put don  insurgence elsewhere.

MN Roy was also listed as one of the co-accused. The charges framed against him included his attempts to procure  arms through SS Maverick to fight British in India ; his illegal entry into San Francisco under a false name , his contacts with the German agencies and Hindu conspirators and so on.  The charges against Roy also mentioned that he had attempted to flee to Germany by the submarine Deutschland to obtain a big deal in arms with a South China party. The scheme fell through when Federal authorities took action against conspirators in New York.

 But, by the time the trial commenced, MN Roy had fled USA and slipped into Mexico. Nevertheless, Roy was indicted on the charges framed against him.

The accused Indians presented their position in terms of the ideals of the American Revolution. The defence attorneys attempted to argue in favour of the accuseds’ beliefs by placing them squarely within American ideals; and quoted from liberty appeals in the writings of by Patrick Henry, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and President Woodrow Wilson.

On the last day of the trial on 23 April, 1918, the court room witnessed a bizarre scene. Ram Singh, one of the accused belonging to a faction of the Ghadar Party shot dead another co-accused Ram Chandra belonging to the rival faction of the Ghadar Party on the grouse that Ram Chandra was misusing the Party funds and diverting the funds to his own use. Ram Singh too was promptly shot and killed by the US Federal Marshal present in the court room.

This unfortunate incident contributed to marring the defence position. A week later, the judge found the defendants guilty of violating the neutrality of the United States. Of the twenty-nine Indians found guilty, there were “students and revolutionists, several of them highly educated”. They were sentenced to serve from twenty-two months to sixty days.

The Presiding District Judge Rudkin, while announcing the verdict against the convicts observed: if your propaganda continues after you are released you will doubtless be deported and disposed of the hated British Government, as you term it.

The British felt that the sentences were absurdly light; and were outraged. The Calcutta High Court thereafter ruled that the San Francisco defendants could still be tried under the Indian Penal Code on their return to India.




Continued In

 Next Part

Sources and References

1, M N Roy by V B Karnik, National Book Trust, 1980

  1. M N Roy, A Political Biography by Samaren Roy
  2. Haj to Utopia: by Maia Ramnath
  3. Trials that Changed History: From Socrates to Saddam Hussein by M.S. Gill
  4. Political Philosophy of M.N. Roy by Dr. Prakash Chandra, Sarup & Sons, 1992
  5. Numerous pages from Wikipedia
  6. All pictures are from Internet



Posted by on January 13, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 03

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 03

Continued From Part 02

In search of the Golden Fleece

Fleece of Jason

As the tension between England and Japan mounted following the dispute over the Korean Peninsula in 1910; and later as the war clouds were gathering  over Europe by 1913, a new fervor seized the revolutionary outfits operating within India as also the groups  of exiles striving from outside India , particularly in Europe and California (USA) . And, the insurgency within India took on a new dimension and a different orientation.  These developments led all the groups of revolutionaries to look towards Germany and Japan with hopes of securing their help and support for fighting the British, the common enemy of all the three.

One of the earliest attempts made to secure Japan’s support to fight the British in India was in May 1910 by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (brother of Sarojani Naidu) and his associates. The response from Japan was rather tepid. With the worsening political instability, the apprehensions of an impending war began to look more ominous. And, eventually with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 a war did break out. The Great War, which later was named the World War I, struck the globe on 28 July 1914 and spread like wild fire; and, it did not subside until 11 November 1918.

[As the war began to engulf more and more countries, term “First World War” coined by the German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, first came into use by September 1914. Ernst Haeckel claimed that “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the First World War in the full sense of the word.]

As Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg, before moving towards France, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany.  As Germany and Britain came into direct conflict,   Virendranath Chattopadhyaya along with his friend Dr. Abinash Bhattacharya  (who was said to be close to Kaiser’s inner circle) and other Indian nationalist formed  , at Berlin, in September in 1914 “German Friends of India Association”. The group soon thereafter met the brother of the belligerent German Emperor William II. The Group (representing India) and the Germans signed a treaty agreeing on German help to oust the British from India. With the help of Baron Max von Oppenheim, who was an expert on Middle Eastern affairs in the German Foreign Office, Virendranath drafted further plans; and, informed Indian students in thirty-one German universities and the rebel groups operating from France  about the Association’s future plans.

Following that treaty, by about the end of September 1914, the German Ambassador in USA Von Bernstorff ordered   Gen. Von Papen, his Military Attaché, to arrange for steamers, and purchase arms and ammunition, to be delivered on the Eastern Coast of India. The news of these developments was conveyed to Jatin Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) the leader of the insurgent movement in India.

Even much before these developments took place; Jatin Mukherjee accompanied by Narendra Nath had met Wilhelm, the German Crown Prince during his visit to Calcutta in 1912. The Indian group had obtained from the Crown Prince an assurance that arms and ammunition would be supplied to them to fight the British Rule in India.

Later, on receipt of the message from Virendranath in Sept 1914, Jatin Mukherjee began re-organizing his group; and, asked Rash Behari Bose  (another prominent Jugantar member  and an insurgent leader operating underground in UP and Punjab ) to expedite preparations for the an  armed uprising.

Jatin Mukherjee, Narendra Nath, the Germans in Berlin and the German Counsel in Calcutta were in contact; and, drew plans, which sounded fantastic.

The initial plan was to use German ships interned in a port at the northern tip of Sumatra, to storm the Andaman Islands and free the prisoners there. The escaped prisoners from the internment camp were to be formed into a Liberation Army. The Army was to be moved by big armored vessels (as many big German vessels usually were) ready for warfare. The warships were to be loaded with several hundred guns, rifles and other small arms with an adequate supply of ammunition. These arms were to be procured through Chinese smugglers who would get then on board the ships….The Liberation Army was to land on the Orissa coast.

As said , the plan looked great; but , it just did not work,  At the last minute, money for  purchase of arms from the Chinese and for the conduct of the operation failed to materialize and the German Consul General “mysteriously disappeared on the day when he was to issue orders for the execution of the plan.”

Then, again, by the end of 1914, the Germans asked the Bengal revolutionaries to send their reprehension to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now known as Jakarta in Indonesia) identified as suitable neutral place for delivery of arms and money. Batavia lies on the north coast of Java, in a sheltered bay, over a flat land consisting of marshland and hills, and crisscrossed with canals.  


Narendra Nath was chosen by Jatin Mukherjee to negotiate the arms deal with Germans. In April 1915, Narendra Nath left for Batavia under the false name of Charles A Martin a reprehensive of M/S. Harry & Sons (a fake company set up under Harikumar Chakravarthy, a close friend on Naren). This was Narendra Nath’s first trip abroad.

Through the German Consul at Java, Naren met Theodore Helfferich, brother of Karl Helfferich (German politician, economist, and financier) who assured him that a cargo of arms and ammunition was already on its way, “to assist the Indians in a revolution.”   It was agreed that a cargo ship, an oil steamer ,  S.S. Maverick would deliver 30,000 rifles with 400 rounds of ammunition of for each, at Rai Mangal, a remote island in the wilderness of Sunderbans   in South Bengal. In addition a sum of Rs. Two lakhs was promised. Martin (Naren) wired to Harry & Sons “Sugar business helpful” . And again, he messaged:” Business good. Sugar contracted shipment after two weeks .Anxious for affairs there”.

Narendra Nath, after spending about two months in Java returned home with some money; and to make arrangements for receiving and unloading arms , for dispatching them to different parts of India. He did make the necessary arrangements. Between June and August 1915, Helfferich wired a total of Rs. 43, 000 to M/S. Harry & Sons of Calcutta. Naren had returned to India by the middle of June 1915; and was waiting for the shipment  Maverick which was said to reach the estuary of the Rai Mangal in Khulna District by the end of June 1915.

But, the promised cargo of arms failed to show up.  Naren thereafter ruefully remarked: the coveted cargo of Golden Fleece was after all a wild goose chase’.

Thereafter, a new plan was drawn up by the Berlin committee, according to which the German arms were to be delivered at two or three places like Hatia on Chittagong coast, Rai-mangal in the Sunderbans and Balasore in Orissa. The plan included organizing guerrilla forces to start uprising in several parts of the country, backed by a mutiny among the Indian Armed Force.

Naren again had to go to Java to work out the details of the arms delivery. Before going out on his second mission, in August 1915, Naren met Jatin Mukherjee who then was hiding is a safe place at Mohandia, near Balasore in Orissa; and, promised Jatin not to return this time without the arms. Jatin, it is said, told Naren in his farewell meeting “Come back with or without arms”. That, sadly, turned out to be Naren’s last meeting with Jatin.

Unfortunately the whole plot got leaked, through a Czech counter-revolutionary E. V. Voska who was in touch with his network of minority -Czech patriots in USA engaged in espionage and spying on the activity of the Germans. The British Intelligence came to know of the plot through their counterparts in USA.  The German plot thus was busted.

[Emanuel Viktor Voska, (1875-1960) of Czechoslovakia was a triple secret agent based in USA during the periods of the First and the Second World Wars.  When the First War broke out in 1914, Voska  was running the intelligence network of minority Czech patriots. And,  with the advice of President Woodrow Wilson, Voska took up the task of monitoring the anti-British espionage activities of the Germans and Austrian diplomats. (He later narrated the activities of his group in his book Spy and Counter-Spy published from London in 1941)

Soon after Voska got wind, through his pro-British, pro-American and anti-German   network operating in India, of the German plans to supply arms and to fund the revolutionary group headed by Bagha Jatin, he passed on the information to T G Masaryk, the Czech leader and a friend of President Woodrow Wilson (Masaryk – 1850 to 1937 – later in November 1918 became the first President of Czechoslovakia). Masaryk rushed the intelligence he gained to President Wilson, who alerted the British. And, eventually the Bagha-German plot was busted by the British police in India.

Thus a distant Czech spy-master Voska is held indirectly responsible for the fall of Bagha Jatin and for the end of militant revolutionary movement in India. Voska is also credited with the exposure of the Hindu–German Conspiracy; and, similarly for smashing the German efforts to supply arms to the Irish nationalist groups, both in Ireland and in USA. Voska’s network is also said to have uncovered spy activities by the German Ambassador in Washington and caught an American journalist doubling as a German agent .  Voska also helped in frustrating the efforts of German agent Franz von Rintelento restore Victoriano Huertato the Mexican presidency during World War I.


Thus, E V Voska had a highly successful career as a spymaster; but, his later years were miserable.

Voska returned to his country after the end of the Second War. And, soon thereafter in 1948, the Communists staged a coup and took over Czechoslovakia. Voska was arrested and put on trial for treason. Even though he was now an old man of 75, he fought hard against the charges, arguing that being then an American citizen, nothing he might have done could have been considered treasonous. Voska spent the next ten years in prison. Some satisfaction did come to him during show trials, when a number of the communist leaders who had persecuted Voska were themselves tried and executed for treason. What clinched their guilt were the bunch of  old letters found in Voska’s files showing that they had met with him to discuss anti-Franco operations in Spain.

In 1960, the communists finally released the 85-year-old Voska; and,  he died, a few days later, as a free man. ]


As soon as the British got the tip, the whole of the Ganges Delta and the all the sea approaches on the eastern coast from the Noakhali–Chittagong side up to Odisha were sealed off. And, New Emporium a branch of the Harry & Sons in Balasore was raided. The raid yielded the clue to Jatin’s hiding place at Kaptipada a nearby village. The British forces, in a military action, stormed Jatin’s hiding place.  The prolonged gun battle between the Police and the revolutionary fighters ended in “unrecorded number of casualties on the Government side and on the revolutionary side”. Jatin and his close associate Jatish were seriously wounded and captured. The others – Manoranjan Sengupta and Niren were also captured after their ammunition ran out. Bagha Jatin died in Balasore hospital on 10 September 1915. 


 [In an article titled Jatin Mukherjee (Independent India, 27 Feb 1949) MN Roy talked about Jatin with great affection; and, described his meeting with Jatin as the turning point in life. He wrote: ‘At that time, I did not know what the attraction was. Later on, I realized, it was his personality. Since then, I have had the privilege of meeting outstanding personalities of our time. These were great men. Jatinda was a good man; and, I still have to find a better… Good men are seldom given a place in the galaxy of the great.  It will continue to be so until goodness is recognised as the measure of genuine greatness”. “I admired Jatinda because he personified, perhaps without himself knowing it, the best of mankind” .. “Jatinda’s death would be avenged if I worked for the ideal of establishing a social order in which the best in man could be manifest”.

Jatin was a true revolutionary; he expressed his motto in simple words: “Amra morbo, jagat jagbe“- “We shall die to awaken the nation”. Even his adversaries respected his courage and valor.  It is said; Charles Tegart a British Police Officer involved in hunting down Jatin remarked: “Had Jatin Mukherjee been an Englishman, the English would have erected his statue at Trafalgar Square, by the side of Nelson’s”.  During a conversation with Charles Tegart on 25 June 1925, Gandhi qualified Jatin Mukherjee as “a divine man.” Interestingly, Ross Hedvicek an author of Chez origin remarked: had he not been killed in that encounter , the Father of Indian Nation would have been Bagha Jatin and not Gandhi”.

The 10 September 2015 marked the Centenary of the   martyrdom of Jatindra Nath Mukherjee, described as one of India’s most fearless sons and the pride of every Bengali.  It was celebrated both in Bengal and in Bangladesh.]


Naren left for Batavia in August 1915 to make fresh arrangements; this time under the name of Hari Sing (Little did he know then that he would not see his homeland again for 16 years) .

The alternate plan , this time , was to bring arms into India  from China by overland , through the North-Eastern Frontiers of Assam (NEFA) , where the local rebellious independent tribe Abors had risen in revolt against the British. The plan, among other things, was also to help the armed revolt of Abors.

This time, Naren found to his surprise, the German diplomats in Java were not very enthusiastic; they were not even cooperating. The German Consul complained that Indians lacked discipline and organization; and, were bad at keeping secrets. He also said that Germans had no men to spare ; and were not also willing to risk their vessels. Naren had three or four meetings with the German Consul but found he was making no impression or progress.

He made another attempt to secure arms from Indonesia; but, the Germans were reluctant to fund the venture.

Naren was disappointed and disgusted. But, he had resolved not to return to India without arms. It was while he, in desperation, was wandering aimlessly in, Manila, Philippines that he learnt about the death of his Mentor and ideal Jatin Mukherjee in a shootout at Balasore. His immediate resolve was that ‘Jatin’s death must be avenged’.

He was now more determined than ever to secure arms and funds to carry on armed struggle against the British Rule in India. For about one and a half years he wandered about in the Far East, pursuing his mission by contacting various groups of revolutionaries in Malaysia, Indonesia, Indo-China, the Philippines, Korea and Japan.

Naren went to Japan as Mr White; and in Tokyo ( during the middle of December 1915 ) he met Rashbehari Bose (25 May 1886 – 21 January 1945) his co-revolutionary of the Jugantar days. Rashbehari Bose was then on the ‘run’, hunted by British Police, following his failed attempt on the life of Lord Hardinge while he was returning from the Delhi Darbar of King George V on 12 December 1912.  Rash Behari managed to escape British intelligence and reached Japan in 1915.  There, in Japan, Bose hiding from the British Police, found shelter with various Pan-Asian groups.

Rashbehari Bose advised Naren to defer the armed struggle for Indian independence till such time as Japan was ready to take over the Asian leadership. Rashbehari Bose, however, put Naren in touch with other Asian revolutionaries taking shelter in Japan. It was then that Naren met the exiled Chinese President Dr Sun Yat-Sen   (12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925) who had escaped to Japan following the failure of the July 1913 uprising in Nanking.

When Naren approached San Yat-Sen for help in his task of organizing anti-British revolution in India, he pleaded  his inability to get involved , directly  , in such ventures, mainly because of the British control of Hong Kong,  which then was  Sun’s base of operations in South China.

By then, that is by the end of 1915, an armed revolt against Yuan Shi-Kai’s plan to restore monarchy in China was brewing in the two Chinese provinces of Yunan and Szechuan, bordering Burma and India. The rebels had more than adequate supply of arms. Naren requested San Yat-Sen whether he could help in diverting some of those arms to Indian revolutionaries across the border. Sun Yat Sen approved the idea; and suggested that Naren could approach the German Ambassador in Peking for a sum of Five Million Dollars for purchase of arms from the Chinese rebels. Sun Yat Sen also said he would first send his emissary to Yunan to brief the rebel groups; and Naren could later follow up that with the German Ambassador.

As suggested by Sun Yat-Sen, Naren (Mr. White) reached Hankow (now called as Hankou), early in January 1916, to meet Admiral Paul Von Hintz, the German Ambassador in China. The Ambassador agreed that from the military point of view Naren’s plans was worth trying. But, he rued that the amount involved was too huge; and he had no authority to sanction such sums of expenditure. He, however, suggested that Naren could submit his plans for consideration of the German Supreme War Authority and the General Staff, in Berlin.

 It is, however said, the real reason was that the German Ambassador suspected Dr. Sun of pro-British sympathies; and was not prepared to   trust Narendranath with such a huge loan.

It was decided that Narendranath  should go to Germany with Prince Hatzfield by the submarine, Deutschland; and,  try to persuade the German Government there to sanction the necessary amount for this project. Unfortunately, these negotiations took much time;  Naren was arrested shortly thereafter ; and, could not go to Germany .

[MN Roy later wrote that the Germans never meant to give us any substantial help; and the whole German plan of giving arms to Indian revolutionaries was a mere hoax, a veritable swindle.]


Since Naren was determined to take his plan for German funding to the German Ambassador in the United States, before heading to Germany itself,  the German embassy  in Peking put him   as a stowaway aboard an American ship with a German crew, bound for San Francisco. It also provided him with a fake French – Indian Passport.

The understanding was that the offer of German arms would be routed through the resident Indians in California, which is located midway between Japan and Europe (The Axis).  Narendra Nath, thus, traveled to America primarily to negotiate an Arms deal and to secure funds from Germany to fuel the Indian revolutionaries.

On the way, the British raided vessel in international waters; but were unable to track down Naren who was hidden in a secret compartment. When the ship next landed at Kobe, Japan, Naren stealthily disembarked and escaped into Japan.

And there in Japan, with the help of Japanese Intelligence, he obtained an American Visa on the ground that he was travelling to Paris by way of USA. He used a fake French – Indian passport given to him by the Germans in China. He (as Martin Charles Allen) boarded a ship named Nippon Maru that set sail to San Francisco, California from Yokohama (Japan) in Tokyo Bay, South of Tokyo, on 25 May 1916.

After series of disappointments, failures and aimless wandering as a fugitive over the whole of South East for about eighteen months, Narendra Nath set sail to USA in pursuit of his  incomplete mission to secure German arms to fight the British in India.

As Roy had earlier remarked;   the coveted cargo of Golden Fleece was after all a wild goose chase.  And, it continued to elude.






Next Part

Sources and References

 1, M N Roy by V B Karnik, National Book Trust, 1980

2.M N Roy, A Political Biography by Samaren Roy

3.Political Philosophy of M.N. Roy by Dr. Prakash Chandra, Sarup & Sons, 1992

4. Numerous pages from Wikipedia



Posted by on January 12, 2016 in M N Roy


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