M N Roy is called as ‘remarkable failure’ by Sudipto Kaviraj. He was one of the most learned personality during freedom struggle. He can be considered as one of the few philosophers of modern India. However he proved complete failure in politics. His biggest contribution is his philosophy known as ‘radical humanism’.
Ideational journey of M N Roy
There is a transition in ideas of M N Roy. He started as a revolutionary, associated with ‘Yugantar’. He believed that revolutionary method is the way to achieve freedom for India. As a revolutionary, he was sent abroad to procure arms. He went to USA where he got an opportunity to attend lecture by Lala Lajapat Rai. He was not impressed with Congress approach to deal with the problems of masses in India.
His search for satisfactory answers made him to know Marx. To know Marx deeper, he went to Mexico. He became the founding member of Communist Party of Mexico. By this time, he got recognition as a major Marxist intellectual. Between 1920s to 30s, he became supporter of Marx and critic of Gandhi. He held that Congress program is against masses, Gandhi is bourgeoise leader, Gandhi is a weak watery man – looking for appointments with viceroy, Gandhi’s program of non-violence was actually violence against masses. He completely disagreed with Gandhi’s strategy for the upliftment of poor like revival of khadi. He called Gandhi, a man with medieval mentality, a reactionary who is trying to bring religion into politics.
During this time, there was transition in his ideas also. He was initially an admirer of Marx but gradually became critic of Marx. Even when he was critic of Marx, he used to consider himself as Marxist.
His dissociation with international communism started in 2nd communist international. 2nd communist international was called by Lenin to decide, what should be the approach of ‘communist international’ towards the freedom struggle going on in colonies? Since M N Roy, belonged to India, a British colony and had the recognition of Marxist scholar, he was invited for the discussion. M N Roy developed difference with Lenin, entered into debates with Lenin and was finally ousted from communist international. What was Lenin’s position? Lenin proposed two stage strategy. 1st stage) Support nationalist parties in colonies like INC in India, Kuomintang in China. Once imperialists are ousted, communist international will support communist revolution by masses to establish communism.
M N Roy’s position:
We should not support nationalist party as it goes against principles of Marx. We should not trust INC like German Bourgeoise class, congress will join hands with imperialist powers. [* Sudipto Kaviraj charges M N Roy with guilt of heteronomy. What is heteronomy? Applying the examples of some other country based on some superficial understanding.]
According to him communist international should directly support communist parties, peasants and workers parties. He held that masses in India are fully prepared for communist movement, so there is no need of two stage revolution. However later on he acknowledged that his understanding was wrong, which happened because of the wrong data on Indian situation provided by ‘Abani Mukherjee’.
There is a transition in his ideas between 30s to 40s. He joined Indian national congress. He aimed to radicalize congress from within. He formed the league of radical congressmen. During this phase he became sympathetic to Gandhi. He believed that Gandhi’s program did help masses. During this phase, he became critic of Marxism.
M N Roy’s criticism of Marxism.
He was basically the critic of Soviet communism/Marxism. The main principles of Soviet Marxism included 1. Historical materialism. 2. Dialectical materialism. 3. Class struggle. 4. Surplus value. 5. Revolution. 6. Communism.
M N Roy criticized above principles. 1) Historical materialism is not the scientific explanation of history. It is economic determinism. It ignores the important role played by ideas in shaping history. 2) He held that dialectical materialism is not materialism but idealism. 3) He rejected the view that history is a product of class struggle rather held that history is a result of class co-operation. 4) Surplus value is not bad, it is bad when not equitably distributed. 5) He rejected revolution in the sense that revolution means change in the mode of production. He held that real revolution is ideological, change in the mind of the people and it should happen first. 6) Instead of communism, we should strive to get radical democracy and cosmopolitan union of free persons.
Though he criticized above principles of Marxism, he continued to assert himself as Marxist and suggested that he is giving humanist interpretation to Marx.
There is a transition in his ideas in 40s.
First he left congress because congress agreed to India joining 2nd WW with the British. He became critic of Gandhi’s ‘quit India movement’ and appealed to support the British who were fighting against fascist powers.
In this phase, he formed his own party known as ‘radical democratic party’. Radical democratic party was based on his philosophy, known as ‘new humanism’. He wrote twenty two theses on new humanism to explain the program. However he disbanded the party and started radical humanist movement. He re-named new humanism as radical humanism.
Radical humanism as described by M N Roy is a philosophy of freedom. Radical humanism grew out of the dissatisfaction with existing major philosophies.
1] Parliamentary democracy is inadequate because it does not give opportunity to the masses for direct participation in governance. Hence there is no real freedom until and unless there is a radical democracy.
2] Fascism to be rejected because its subsumes man under the collective ego of nation.
3] Communism is also not liberating because it subsumes man under the collective ego of class. Hence we need a philosophy which gives real importance to man as an individual and which aims to achieve freedom of man.
Freedom of man means what?
Real liberation from all sorts of fears. This includes freedom from foreign rule, political freedom, economic freedom, social freedom and even freedom from religion. According to him, freedom does not lie in choosing religion but freedom lies in man’s capacity to reject religion. Thus radical humanism aims to liberate man even from supernatural fears. It targets against superstitions.
How to get this freedom?
The freedom will come with the promotion of scientific rationality. He looked at science as a liberating force. He believed that there should be promotion of scientific education. Hence he believed that intellectual revolution or mental revolution has to precede over political or economic revolution.
What is the possibility of making people rational?
According to M N Roy, every person is rational. Man is rational by nature, man cannot survive without reason. Hence there is always a possibility of promoting scientific rationality. What is the basis to say man is rational? Where is the origin of reason in man? M N Roy does not believe in spiritualism or God. M N Roy is a materialist. He believes that reason has ‘materialistic/physiological’ origin. It means reason in man developed in his struggle for existence or survival. Thus he believes in existentialist conception of freedom like Sartre. According to Sartre, freedom is made up of ‘protein’. He believes that since man is rational there is a hope for betterment of human society on the basis of reason.
M N Roy suggested that we have to build our society based on rational norms. According to him, ethics or morality has secular origin. He rejects the view that religion is a source of ethics. It is the reason which is source of ethics. Those social practices, cultural values which do not appear rational at present needs to be rejected. Society to be based on secular rationality.
Three components of radical humanism.
Objective of radical humanism is attainment of freedom in all possible sense of the term. Such a freedom is possible only on the basis of scientific rationality by rejecting irrational practices.
It is natural for man to be rational. Man cannot survive without being rational. Radical humanism suggests the need for cultural renaissance. It suggests constant research. Constant examinations of our values in light of modern scientific knowledge. Radical humanism rejects ignorance, blind faith, fatalism (doctrine of karma). Radical humanism has two features – critical and constructive. Critical means criticizing the existing irrelevant modes of thinking and constructive because creation of the order which gives highest importance for human freedom. Ultimate aim of radical humanism is creation of cosmopolitan union of free persons linked to each other with reason and humanity.
Society to be based on secular rational principles rather than superstitions. According to M N Roy, radical humanism aims to establish human society in harmony with the principles of nature. Radical humanism rejects metaphysics. It believes in science. Radical humanism rejects the duality between matter and idea. (Attack on Marxist approach.) According to him, ideas emerge during man’s struggle for survival but later on become independent reality on its own.
Radical humanism supports intellectual revolution. Human brain is most important means of production. It produces the most important things i.e. Ideas. The crisis of modern civilization is the lack of faith in the innate rationality of man. Like Protagoras , he also believes that man is a measure of everything. The progress of the society to be measured by the amount of freedom it gives to man.
Source of inspiration
Renaissance is a source of inspiration. Like renaissance in the west, there should be attempt to bring renaissance in India.
Why it is called ‘New humanism’?
Humanism is a philosophy of renaissance, but M N Roy’s philosophy is new humanism because it is humanism based on the experience of ages. Why it is called radical humanism? It treats human beings in a radical sense. Radical sense means original – means human being as a human being and not as a member of caste, religion, nationality or class.
How to achieve radical humanism?
Formation of committees, through this there will be a movement to spread the awareness.
Test Your Knowledge!
1] Why did M N Roy criticise Marx’s concept of class struggle?
a) Because history is a result of class cooperation rather than class struggle
b) More than economic class, it is religious decision that lead to struggle
c) M N Roy rejects the view of class divisions in society
d) According to M N Roy, Marx’s concept of class struggle is not universal
Ans: a) Because history is a result of class cooperation rather than class struggle
2] How does M N Roy describe radical humanism?
a) A philosophy of freedom
b) A philosophy of equality
c) A philosophy of nationalism
d) A philosophy of unity
Ans: a) A philosophy of freedom
3] M N Roy was supportive of which of these?
a) Parliamentary democracy
c) Gandhi’s quit India movement
d) Intellectual revolution
Ans: d) Intellectual revolution
4] What is the purpose of radical humanism, according to M N Roy?
a) Bringing cultural renaissance
b) Criticizing existing irrelevant modes of thinking
c) Creation of an order which gives highest importance for human freedom
d) All of the above
Ans: d) All of the above
5] Which of the following statements is not correct in light of M N Roy’s thought?
a) Reason is the source of ethics
b) Religion is a source of ethics
c) Ethics has a secular origin
d) Society should be based on rational norms
Ans: b) Religion is a source of ethics
6] What was M N Roy’s source of inspiration?
a) French Revolution
b) Bolshevik revolution
c) Renaissance in the West
d) Glorious revolution in England
Ans: c) Renaissance in the West
7] Why is M N Roy’s philosophy called ‘radical humanism’?
a) It treats human being as member of a nationality
b) It takes gender into consideration while describing human beings
c) It treats human beings as human beings
d) It views human beings as member of a class
Ans: c) It treats human beings as human beings