Roy started his political activities as a .revolutionary by participating in the activities of Yugantar Group. Later on, he studied Marxism and was deeply inspired by its basic tenets. In his opinion "Marxism is the outcome of the development of thought from dawn of history, therefore it is the heritage of humanity, it is the ideological equipment belonging to everybody for "a better world". But in view of dogmatic interpretations of Marxism by Russian tyrants, he moved on to outline, what he termed as Radical Humanism.
Roy's radical Humanism is not simply a relation against Stalin's interpretation of Marx but instead it represents his vision of freedom and well being. As he says, 'radical humanism is a philosophy of freedom based on modern scientific knowledge. It aimed at infusing and re-invigorating ethical or moral outlook in the man.
There are following grounds on which Roy opposed Marxism.
Firstly, he did not pin faith in the Marxism theory of surplus value. Rather he believed that surplus provided one of the bases for society's progress.
Secondly, he did not approve of economic deterministic outlook of man. As Dr. V.D. Verma observes "in place of the Marxist thesis which interpret ethical norms in terms of class struggle, Roy accepts that there is something permanent in actual values." Roy also said "Philosophically, the materialist conception of history must recognize the creative role of intelligence. Materialism cannot deny the objective reality of ideas".
Thirdly, Roy had strong praise for individualism,
Fourthly, Roy was not convinced with the Marxism notion of "history of ail hitherto existing societies is history of class struggle". Rather, he believed that conflict cooperation is part of social life. Moreover, the contemporary reality did not expressed Marx's ideas.
Fifthly, Roy was highly critical of the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the contrary, we believed that the real "conflict was between totalitarianism and democracy, between all-devouring collective ego- nation or class and the individual struggling for freedom". A revolution through education was the most suitable method for change. In his opinion, revolutions and the resulting dictatorship of the proletariat lead to totalitarianism of one or the other kind.
Roy changed his view from radical to New Humanism. It was marked by as Vishnoo Bhagwan observes "He found in the European renaissance enriched by the discoveries of present day sciences the basis of a new social order. Hence it is rightly contended that Roy's humanistic elements of thoughts are traceable to several schools and epochs of western philosophy. He craves for New Humanism based upon natural reason and secular conscience".
Roy made a novel connection between the means and ends. As he said "It is very doubtful if a moral object can ever be attained by immoral means". But, his conclusions draw a totally different picture than Gandhi's Ram Rajya. He was convinced of the usefulness of European rationalism. He advocated use of physical sciences in the service of mankind.
The basis of Roy's "New Humanism" was cosmopolitan. It transcended natural as well as political boundaries. As he observed "New Humanism" is cosmopolitan commonwealth of spiritually free men would not be limited by the boundaries of national states. Which will gradually disappear under the 20th century renaissance of man"? The role of education was of pivotal importance in Roy's scheme of things.
Roy's conception of New Humanism was basically a conception of individual freedom based on reason and morality. It was to be a tool for social progress. As he observed "The quest for freedom is the continuation of biological struggle for existence at the emotional and cognitional level". His love for individual freedom and social progress is expressed in his following word. "A brotherhood of men attracted by the adventure of ideas, keenly conscious of the urge for freedom fired with the vision of a free society of free man and motivated by the will to remake the world so as to restore the individual in his position of primary and dignity will show the way out of the contemporary crisis of modern civilization.
Political and Economic Ideas:
Roy's love for individual freedom led him to outline a broader framework that could be most conducive to its realization. Being witness to the fate of centralized society (Soviet Union), he favoured decentralization of power in the political as well as economic realm. The villages and local units must be the tool of social change and it should not be brought about by the political parties. As Vishnoo Bhagwan observes "Like J.P. Narayan, we strongly advocated party less democracy".
3. M. N. Roy
M. N. Roy (1887-1954) is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Indian philosopher of twentieth century. Unlike some other Indian thinkers of twentieth century, Roy has made a clear distinction between philosophy and religion in his thought. This alone, I think, entitles him to be recognized as the foremost Indian philosopher of twentieth century. According to Roy, no philosophical advancement is possible unless we get rid of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas. On the other hand, Roy has envisaged a very close relationship between philosophy and science.
Secondly, Roy has given a central place to intellectual or philosophical revolution in his philosophy. According to Roy, a philosophical revolution must precede a social revolution.
Besides, Roy has, in the tradition of eighteenth century French materialist Holbach, revised and restated materialism in the light of twentieth century scientific developments. If we wish to place Roy's philosophy in the context of ancient Indian philosophy, we may place Roy in the tradition of the ancient Indian materialism, Lokayata or Charvaka. However, compared to the ancient doctrines of Lokayata, Roy's "physical realism" is a highly developed philosophy. Roy not only takes into account the then contemporary discoveries of physics in reformulating "materialism" as "physical realism", but also gives an important place to ethics in his philosophy. Moreover, Roy's philosophy has an important social and political component, which is based on his criticism of communism and "formal" parliamentary democracy. Roy called this "new philosophy of revolution", which he developed in the later part of his life, "new humanism" or "radicalism". The essence of the philosophy of new humanism is contained in Roy's "Theses on the principles of Radical Democracy" or the "Twenty-two Theses of Radical Humanism". Roy further elaborated this philosophy in his New Humanism - A Manifesto, first published in 1947.
The news of Roy's arrival at San Francisco was somehow published in a local daily, forcing Roy to flee to Pao Alto, the seat of Stanford University. It was here that Roy, until then known as Narendra Nath Bhattacharya or Naren, changed his name to Manbendra Nath Roy. This change of name on the campus of Stanford University was like a new birth for Roy. As stated by him in his Memoirs, it enabled him to turn his back on a futile past and look forward to a new life of adventures and achievements.
Roy's host at Pao Alto introduced him to Evelyn Trent, a graduate student at Stanford University. Evelyn Trent, who later married Roy, became his political collaborator. She accompanied him to Mexico and Russia and was of great help to him in his political and literary work. The collaboration continued until they separated in 1929.
At New York, where he went from Pao Alto, Roy met Lala Lajpat Rai, the well-known nationalist leader of India. He developed friendships with several American radicals, and frequented the New York Public Library. Roy also went to public meetings with Lajpat Rai. Questions asked by the working class audience in these meetings made Roy wonder whether exploitation and poverty would cease in India with the attainment of independence. Roy began a systematic study of socialism, originally with the intention of combating it, but he soon discovered that he had himself become a socialist! In the beginning, nurtured as he was on Bankimchandra, Vivekanand and orthodox Hindu philosophy, Roy accepted socialism "except its materialist philosophy".
Later in Mexico in 1919, Roy met Michael Borodin, an emissary of the Communist International. Roy and Borodin quickly became friends, and it was because of long discussions with Borodin that Roy accepted the materialist philosophy and became a full-fledged communist. Roy was also instrumental in converting the Socialist Party of Mexico into the Communist Party of Mexico.
In 1920, Roy was invited to Moscow to attend the second conference of the Communist International. Roy had several meetings with Lenin before the Conference. He differed with Lenin on the role of the local bourgeoisie in nationalist movements. On Lenin's recommendation, the supplementary thesis on the subject prepared by Roy was adopted along with Lenin's thesis by the second conference of the Communist International. The following years witnessed Roy's rapid rise in the international communist hierarchy. By the end of 1926, Roy was 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.
In 1927, Roy was sent to China as a representative of the Communist International. However, Roy's mission in China ended in a failure. On his return to Moscow from China, Roy found himself in official disfavor. In September 1929 he was expelled from the Communist International for "contributing to the Brandler press and supporting the Brandler organizations, …". Roy felt that he was expelled from the Comintern mainly because of his "claim to the right of independent thinking."
Towards New Humanism
Immediately after his release from jail on 20 November 1936, Roy joined Indian National Congress along with his followers. He organized his followers into a body called League of Radical Congressmen. However, in December 1940, Roy and his followers left Congress owing to differences with the Congress leadership on the role of India in the Second World War. Thereafter, Roy formed the Radical Democratic Party of his own. This signaled the beginning of the last phase of Roy's life in which he developed his philosophy of new humanism.
After Roy's release from jail in 1936, Ellen Gottschalk joined Roy in Bombay in March 1937. They were married in the same month. Subsequently, Ellen Roy played an important role in Roy's life, and cooperated in all his endeavors.
In 1944, Roy published two basic documents, namely, People's Plan for Economic Development of India and Draft Constitution of Free India. According to V.M. Tarkunde, who played a role in drafting 'People's Plan', these "documents contained Roy's original contributions to the solution of country's economic and political problems". The Indian state, according to the draft constitution, was to be organized on the basis of countrywide network of people's committees having wide powers such as initiating legislations, expressing opinion on pending bills, recall of representatives and referendum on important national issues. According to Sibnarayan Ray, another prominent associate of Roy, "the Plan and the Constitution anticipated several of the principles which were to be formulated and developed as Radical Humanism in 1949 and the subsequent years".
Beyond Communism: 22 Theses on Radical Humanism
Roy prepared a draft of Basic principles of Radical Democracy before the All India Conference of Radical Democratic Party held in Bombay in December 1946. The draft, in which basic ideas were put in the form of theses, was circulated among a small number of selected friends and associates of Roy including Laxman Shastri Joshi, Philip Spratt, V.M. Tarkunde, Sibnarayan Ray, G.D. Parikh, G.R. Dalvi and Ellen Roy. The "22 Theses" or "Principles of Radical Democracy", which emerged as a result of intense discussions between Roy and his circle of friends, were adopted at the Bombay Conference of the Radical Democratic Party. Roy's speeches at the conference in connection with the 22 Theses were published later under the title Beyond Communism.
In 1947, Roy published New Humanism - A Manifesto, which offered an elaboration of the 22 Theses. The draft of the manifesto was prepared by Roy, but, as Roy himself says, in the preface of New Humanism, he derived help from valuable suggestions of Philip Spratt, Sikander Choudhary and V.M.Tarkunde in improving his draft. The ideas expressed in the manifesto were, according to Roy, "developed over a period of number of years by a group of critical Marxists and former Communists."
Further discussions on the 22 Theses and the manifesto led Roy to the conclusion that party-politics was inconsistent with his ideal of organized democracy. This resulted in the dissolution of the Radical Democratic Party in December 1948 and launching of a movement called the Radical Humanist Movement. At the Calcutta Conference, itself where the party was dissolved, theses 19 and 20 were amended to delete all references to party. The last three paragraphs of the manifesto were also modified accordingly. Thus, the revised versions of the 22 Theses and the manifesto constitute the essence of Roy's New Humanism.
"New Humanism" is the name given by Roy to the "new philosophy of revolution" which he developed in the later part of his life. As pointed out earlier, the philosophy has been summarized by Roy in the "Twenty-Two Theses" and elaborated in his New Humanism - A Manifesto.
New Humanism, as presented in the Twenty- Two Theses, has both a critical and a constructive aspect. The critical aspect consists of describing the inadequacies of communism (including the economic interpretation of history), and of formal parliamentary democracy. The constructive aspect, on the other hand, consists of giving highest value to the freedom of individuals, presenting a humanist interpretation of history, and outlining a picture of radical or organized democracy along with the way for achieving the ideal of radical democracy.
Apart from Roy's effort to trace the quest for freedom and search for truth to the biological struggle for existence, the basic idea of the first three theses of Roy is: individualism. According to Roy, the central idea of the Twenty-Two Theses is that "political philosophy must start from the basic idea that the individual is prior to society, and freedom can be enjoyed only by individuals".
Quest for freedom and search for truth, according to Roy, constitute the basic urge of human progress. The purpose of all-rational human endeavor, individual as well as collective, is attainment of freedom in ever increasing measure. The amount of freedom available to the individuals is the measure of social progress. Roy refers quest for freedom back to human being's struggle for existence, and he regards search for truth as a corollary to this quest. Reason, according to Roy, is a biological property, and it is not opposed to human will. Morality, which emanates from the rational desire for harmonious and mutually beneficial social relations, is rooted in the innate rationality of man.
In his humanist interpretation of history, presented in theses four, five and six, Roy gives an important place to human will as a determining factor, and emphasizes the role of ideas in the process of social evolution. Formation of ideas is, according to Roy, a physiological process but once formed, ideas exist by themselves and are governed by their own laws. The dynamics of ideas runs parallel to the process of social evolution and both of them influence each other. Cultural patterns and ethical values are not mere super structures of established economic relations. They have a history and logic of their own.
Roy's criticism of communism, contained in theses seven to eleven is based mainly on the experience of the former Soviet Union, particularly the "discrepancy between the ideal and the reality of the socialist order". According to Roy, freedom does not necessarily follow from the capture of political power in the name of the oppressed and the exploited classes and abolition of private property in the means of production. For creating a new world of freedom, says Roy, revolution must go beyond an economic reorganization of society. A political system and an economic experiment which subordinate the man of flesh and blood to an imaginary collective ego, be it the nation or class, cannot possibly be, in Roy's view, the suitable means for the attainment of the goal of freedom.
The Marxian doctrine of state, according to which the state is an instrument of exploitation of one class by another, is clearly rejected by Roy. According to Roy, the state is "the political organization of society" and "its withering away under communism is a utopia which has been exploded by experience".
Similarly, Roy rejects the communist doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat. "Dictatorship of any form, however plausible may be the pretext for it, is," asserts Roy, "excluded by the Radical-Humanist perspective of social revolution".
Roy has discussed the shortcomings of formal parliamentary democracy in his twelfth and thirteenth theses. These flaws, according to Roy, are outcome of the delegation of power. Atomized individual citizens are, in Roy's view, powerless for all practical purposes, and for most of the time. They have no means to exercise their sovereignty and to wield a standing control of the state machinery.
"To make democracy effective," says Roy, "power must always remain vested in the people and there must be ways and means for the people to wield sovereign power effectively, not periodically, but from day to day." Thus, Roy's ideal of radical democracy, as outlined in theses fourteen to twenty-two consists of a highly decentralized democracy based on a network of people's committee's through which citizens wield a standing democratic control over the state.
Roy has not ignored the economic aspect of his ideal of radical democracy. According to Roy, progressive satisfaction of the material necessities is the pre-condition for the individual members of society unfolding their intellectual and other finer human potentialities. According to him, "an economic reorganization, such as will guarantee a progressively rising standard of living, is the foundation of the Radical Democratic State. Economic liberation of the masses is an essential condition for their advancing towards the goal of freedom."
The ideal of radical democracy will be attained, according to Roy, through the collective efforts of mentally free men united and determined for creating a world of freedom. They will function as the guides, friends and philosophers of the people rather than as their would-be rulers. Consistent with the goal of freedom, their political practice will be rational and, therefore, ethical. According to Roy:
The function of a revolutionary and a social philosophy is to lay emphasis on the basic fact of history that man is maker of his world… The brain is a means of production, and produces the most revolutionary commodity. Revolutions presuppose iconoclastic ideas. An increasingly large number of men conscious of their creative power, motivated by the indomitable will to remake the world, moved by the adventure of ideas, and fired with the ideal of a free society of free men, can create the condition under which democracy will be possible.
Roy categorically asserts that a social renaissance can come only through determined and widespread endeavor to educate the people as regards the principles of freedom and rational co-operative living. Social revolution, according to Roy, requires a rapidly increasing number of men of the new renaissance, and a rapidly expanding system of people's committees and an organic combination of both. The program of revolution will similarly be based on the principles of freedom, reason and social harmony.
As pointed out by Roy himself in his preface to the second edition of the New Humanism: A Manifesto, though new humanism has been presented in the twenty-two theses and the Manifesto as a political philosophy, it is meant to be a complete system. Because of being based on the ever-expanding totality of scientific knowledge, new humanism, according to Roy, cannot be a closed system. "It will not be", says Roy, "a dogmatic system claiming finality and infallibility." Roy also declares, "the work and progress of the Radical Humanist Movement will no longer be judged in terms of mass following, but by the spread of the spirit of freedom, rationality and secular morality amongst the people, and in the increase of their influence in the state."
According to Roy:
To consolidate the intellectual basis of the movement, Radicals will continue to submit their philosophies to constant research, examine it in the light of modern scientific knowledge and experience, and extend its application to all the social sciences. They will, at the same time, propagate the essentials of the philosophy amongst the people as a whole by showing its relevance to their pressing needs. They will make the people conscious of the urge for freedom, encourage their self-reliance and awaken in them the sense of individual dignity, inculcate the values of rationalism and secular morality, and spread the spirit of cosmopolitan Humanism. By showing the people the way to solve their daily problems by popular initiative, the Radicals will combat ignorance, fatalism, blind faith and the sense of individual helplessness which are the basis of authoritarianism. They will put all the social traditions and institutions to the test of the humanist outlook. (emphasis mine)