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Manabendra Nath Roy biography

Manabendra Nath Roy

(1887-1954)

biography

Manabendra Nath Roy
Manabendra Nath Roy
M.N. Roy was a genius who lost his way amidst the debris of ‘isms’. He is generally acknowledged as the founder of the Communist Party of India but he died preaching Radical Humanism.

M.N. Roy was born as Narendra Nath Bhattacharya on 21 March 1887 in 24 Pargana district of Bengal. His father, Dinabandhu Bhattacharya was a Sanskrit teacher in a local school. Roy went to school in his native village, Arbalia, where he was born and then in Kodalia, where his father had moved in 1898. He was sent to Calcutta, where he joined the National University of Aurobindo Ghosh and later, the Bengal Technical Institute. But it is doubtful if he attended any classes in these institutions. He was essentially a self-educated man; an intellectual without any degrees.
As a schoolboy he was an ardent admirer of V.D. Savarkar and was also influenced by the preachings of Swami Ram Tirth, Dayananda and Vivekananda. But soon he was inspired by Bankim’s Anand Math and joined the Anushilan Samiti, founded on the lines of Anand Math and also the Yuganter Group, whose leader was Jatin Mukherjee (the famous Bagha). Bengal was in ferment due to the partition of Bengal. Roy joined the movement in a big way and was prosecuted in a political dacoity case in 1907, followed by the Howrah Conspiracy Case (1910) and the Garden Reach Dacoity case (1914). On the outbreak of war in 1914, the revolutionaries spread over Europe and other countries as well as in India, looked to the Germans for help in the shape of arms and money which the Germans promised. It was planned that the arms would be sent through the Dutch East-Indies. Roy was assigned the job of collecting arms by Jatin and left for East Asia. As the arms shipment did not arrive, he did not return to India. Rash Behari Bose had also left India in 1915 and had surfaced in Japan. Roy met Bose in Japan and also San Yat Sen, who had also taken refuge in Japan but their meetings, were not fruitful. After visiting several countries in East Asia, Roy landed in San Francisco in America on 15 June 1916 as Father C.A. Martin, with a copy 0f the Bible in his hand. At Stanford University, he stayed with Dhan Gopal Mukherjee, a Contact person for Bengali revolutionaries and changed his name to Manabendra Nath Roy, the name by which he carne to be known. At Stanford, he met Evelyn Trent, fell in love and married her. She worked with him till their divorce in 1926. Life was becoming difficult for Indian revolutionaries in America after the latter entered the war against Germany. Roy was soon arrested in a conspiracy case but jumped bail and escaped to Mexico. During this period in America and Mexico a complete change in his thinking took place. He read Marxian and other leftist literature widely. He also came into Contact with some Marxians in America. Perhaps Evelyn, whom he married, was one of them. The 1917 revolution in Russia had stirred up the entire world and had changed the thinking of millions the world over. On the other hand, the revolutionary activities in India had been crushed ruthlessly by the government. His mentor, Jatin Mukherjee, had been killed in a police encounter. There was no chance for the revolutionaries to overthrow the foreign yoke by such sporadic outbursts. The Russian Revolution, based 0n the teachings of Marx, was a much surer way, Roy thought, and was converted to Communist thinking. The world must be conquered through Marxian methods was now his firm belief. Mexico, at that time, was already witnessing a social revolution. He befriended Michael Borodin, who was sent to Mexico as the first emissary of the newly founded Communist International. Together they founded Mexico’s Communist Party, the first such party outside Russia. Roy’s exploits in Mexico soon drew the attention of Lenin, who invited him to attend the Second World Conference of the Communist International in Moscow.
Roy arrived in Moscow early in 1920 and the Second World Congress of the Communist International was held in July-August 1920. The Congress set out to formulate a policy on what was known as the National and Colonial Question. The Congress found itself confronted with two sets of theses on the question, presented respectively by Lenin and Roy. According to Roy’s thesis, the revolution in colonies like India should mainly depend on organizing workers and peasants independently while Lenin had advocated cooperation with national movements spearheaded by the bourgeoisie. In the Indian context that would have meant the Indian National Congress. These two theses are usually dubbed as revolution from below and revolution from above." Both the theses were incorporated in the resolution and have been tried intermittently by Indian Communists. Roy elaborated his thesis in a book, India in Transition (1922). Interestingly, Roy tried Lenin’s thesis rather than his own, after his arrival in India by joining the Congress party.
Immediately after the Second Congress, a provisional All-India Central Revolutionary Committee was formed in Moscow, with Roy as chairman. He was sent to Tashkent, where he formed the Communist Party of India on 17 October 1920 with M. Acharya as chairman and himself as secretary Roy rose very rapidly to occupy almost all the important positions in the Communist International: membership of the Executive, the Secretariat, the Educational Board, chairmanship of the Eastern Commission and membership of the Chinese Commission. No Indian has ever such a sway in the Communist International as Roy had. He also edited three journals – VanguardThe Masses and Advanced Guard, from 1922 to 1928. During this period Roy also wrote several books on the Indian theme. There was an attempt to smuggle copies of these journals into India and some of them must have been confiscated by the British secret service. Thus his activities in Russia and Europe were known to the police resulting in his implication in the Kanpur Communist Conspiracy Case (1924). It seems that he wanted to return to India and start the Communist movement in the country but apprehended that he would be arrested. To forestall such an eventuality, he wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald, who was himself a Socialist, on 21 February 1924, beseeching him that he should not be arrested and persecuted on his return to India. He wrote: The fact of my membership of the Communist International cannot reasonably deprive me of the right of living and working in India, when adherents of the same International are not deprived of identical rights in Great Britain. Macdonald did not reply Roy postponed his return to India and was tried in absentia in the Kanpur Communist Conspiracy Case (or Bolshevik Conspiracy Case). Roy was charged with conspiracy to establish a branch of the Comintern in India and to deprive the King of his sovereignty of British India. Roy had come to know about the conspiracy charge and decided to stay on in Russia and Europe.
Lenin died in 1924 but Roy did not lose his foothold in the Comintern immediately. On the other hand, he was sent to China to put across the Leftist line adopted by the C.I. In the meanwhile, little progress was made in India by the Communist Party even after Satyabhakata had formally announced the formation of the Indian Communist Party at Kanpur in September 1924. To put life in the C.P.I., some British communists like George Allison and Phillip Spratt came to India and tried to organize the party. By that time the Communist International in Moscow began to doubt the organizational capabilities of Roy to deliver the goods. The visit of Soumendranath Tagore, leader of the Workers and Peasants Party, to Moscow in 1927 proved to be Roy’s nemesis. Tagore alleged that the Comintern leaders were being misguided by Roy regarding the work of the Communists in India. While Roy had boasted that there were hundreds of Communists in India, actually the number did not exceed a dozen. Tagore also alleged that although the Comintern had placed enormous sums at Roy’s disposal, hardly any money had been received in India, and the movement was handicapped because of lack of funds." Other charges also cropped up against Roy and he was expelled from the Comintern in 1929. Consequently, Roy returned to India in December 1930, incognito and even attended the Congress Session at Karachi in March 1931, where he met Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Bose. But he was arrested soon after, the Kanpur Communist Conspiracy Case was revived and he was sentenced to twelve years rigorous imprisonment, which was reduced to six years on appeal. He was released in 1937. Before leaving Europe for India he had met a German lady, Ellen Gottachaulk and they had fallen in love. After Roy’s release from jail, she joined him in India and they got married. She remained his lifelong companion, sharing his joys and sorrows in his tumultuous life.
Shunned by the Communists, he joined the Indian National Congress and was elected to the A.I.C.C. By then, Roy had become a bitter critic of the Marxian philosophy. His idea of joining the Congress was to form a ‘Left-Nationalist Front’ inside the Congress. Then carne the War in 1939 and differences cropped up with the Congress on the issue of supporting the war effort. Unlike the Congress leadership, he was a fervent supporter of the war effort against Fascism. In 1940, he broke away from the Congress and formed a separate party, the Radical Democratic Party. The Congress, he maintained, had all the characteristics of a multi-class party, but it was the reactionary Gandhian leadership which stood in the way of its becoming a revolutionary Organization’. This was an additional reason for leaving the Congress. On the same issue of supporting the War effort Roy and his followers left the INTUC also in 1940, which had passed a resolution against supporting the British, and formed a new outfit, Indian Federation of Labour and declared that labour should shun strikes during the war. It is alleged that the government sanctioned monthly grant of Rs. 13,000 to this organization for its support. He became a virulent Critic of the Congress, calling the Quit India movement as a ‘sabotage movement’. As a result of his anti-national utterances, he suffered a great deal in terms of popularity, which was never of much consequence to him any way.
After the Gandhi-Jinnah talks failed in 1.944, resulting in great embarrassment for Gandhi and the Congress, Roy saw his chance for his political resurrection. He was the only non-Leaguer to support Jinnah and advised him to give up the idea of coming to terms with Hindu India which would never accept the Muslim demand of self-determination. He proposed to Jinnah a ‘democratic coalition’ composed of the Radical Democratic Party, Scheduled Castes Federation, the non-Brahmin organization of Southern India and many other elements outside the two Hindu organizations, Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha. It was very naïve of Roy to put such a proposal to Jinnah, who was gaining strength as the unquestioned leader of Muslim League by preaching Muslim separatism. He did not want to dilute his source of strength by associating with such sundry outfits as proposed by Roy. Jinnah snubbed Roy by not replying. In the 1946 elections, the Radical Democratic Party was routed and could win only one seat in the Bombay Assembly. That made Roy realizes that he had no future in national politics. He retired from active politics to live in Dehradun surrounded by books and natural scenery. Soon after, he wound up the Radical Democratic Party. His new thinking now led him to ‘beyond Communism’, ‘beyond revolution’, ‘beyond traditional politics’. He termed the new mantra he developed as New Humanism or Radical Humanism. It marked the culmination of his manifold heresies, condensed in a full-fledged system of thought. To spread his message, he founded and edited two journals, The Radical Humanist and The Humanist Way and wrote several books on the subject. “Radical Humanism maintains that man is the archetype of society; cooperative social relationships contribute to develop individual potentialities; development of the individual is the measure of social progress. Thus, progress results from the basic human urges, namely, quest for freedom and search for truth. Revolution must go beyond the economic organization”. Thus, he had discarded dialectical materialism of Marx as an incomplete philosophy. At the same time Roy was never enamored of lndia’s contribution to spiritualism as expounded by Dayananda, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and others. He denounced Vedantic idealism and never accepted India’s claim to spiritual superiority over the West. A born heretic, he might have discarded Radical Humanism also had he lived longer.
To trace the evolution of his thinking and changing concepts one would have to wade through at least fifty volumes of his Writings and hundreds of articles published in journals, some of which he himself edited. He was certainly a prolific writer. Some of his important books are: Problems India, Zurich (1920); India in Transition, Geneva (1922); What We Want, Geneva (1922); One Year of non-Cooperation (with Evelyn), Calcutta, 1923; Aftermath of Non-Cooperation, London (1926); Future of Indian Politics, London (1926); Political Letters, Zurich (1924); The Russian Revolution (1930); Heresies of the Twentieth Century (1939); Materialism (1940); Scientific Politics, Calcutta (1942), Indian Labour and Post-War Reconstruction, Lucknow (1943); Future of Socialism, Calcutta (1943); Revolution and Counter Revolution in China, Calcutta (1946); Beyond Communism (1947); New Humanism (1947); Reason, Romanticism and Revolution; 2 vols. (1952); Politics, Power and Parties (1960); Memoirs, Bombay, (1964). That is a tremendous output by any standard and reveals his intellectual caliber.
In June 1952, when he was preparing to visit Europe and America for participation in the conference of his International Humanists and Ethical Union, he met with an accident while walking in the outskirts of Mussoorie, falling several feet in a gorge. He developed cerebral thrombosis and died on 25 January 1954 at the age of sixty-seven. His Radical Humanist movement had attracted several young men and women who had become his followers, His widow Ellen Gottachaulk carried the torch lit by him for some time and his writings and library remained in circulation due to her efforts. His widow and followers maintained his house in Dehra Dun as the ‘Humanist House’ for some time.

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