M.N. Roy was a dedicated communist until he broke with Communist International. He was an elected member of the Presidium and the Secretariat of the International between 1919 and 1928. He had the courage to disagree with Lenin even at the height of his power and the Russian leader had the magnanimity to accommodate Roy's theory with regard to the colonies, as distinct from the countries of Europe. According to his biographer, Sibnarayan Ray, Roy had several outstanding virtues; his love for freedom and truth, his wide experience not only of India and Russia but also of many countries in Europe and Asia as well as far-away Mexico. The author writes: After 1928, Roy became known as a radical humanist as distinct from a committed communist. Nevertheless, he remained parted from nationalism. In the words of Sibnarayan Ray, from an ascetic he became an epicurean, from a nationalist a cosmopolitan, from a communist to a humanist.
He did not return to nationalism and therefore is an ideal authority to explain as to how much a Marxist was an antinationalist. In India, a nationalist was, more often than not, presumed to be a Hindu. The reason was that a devout Muslim was a supranationalist as repeatedly claimed by the renowned Khilafat leader, Maulana Muhammad Ali. He therefore did not recognise the validity of national boundaries. The Indian Christian seldom took serious part in politics. The communist was an internationalist. Socialists did not know where they belonged. That left the nationalist to be necessarily a Hindu. If therefore M.N. Roy or anyone else were to comment on nationalism he would have in mind a Hindu nationalist. If the comment was adversarial, it should be taken as anti Hindu.
The idea of the proletarian revolution as distinct from nationalism came to India and was exhibiting itself in unprecedented strikes. Nationalism was confined to the bourgeois. Their government "would not be less oppressive than the foreigner. Self-determination for India merely encourages the idea of bourgeois nationalism".
The prejudice in the system was self-evident. Roy's antinationalism or anti-Hinduism, must have been so intense that he overlooked the fact that proletarian revolution was little else but the replacement of British with Russian rule, of London with Moscow. M.N. Roy, unfortunately, did not live to witness the Communist Party of India split in 1964.
Since M.N. Roy had passed away ten years earlier, he could not have known of this event. However, he cannot be forgiven for not himself condemning the take over of eastern and central Europe by the Soviet communists led by Joseph Stalin, of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania et al. If there was any hope about the ideals of the Communist International, they lay shattered. proletarian revolution meant Russian rule which, incidentally, was far more brutal than the worst face of British imperialism.
Political Religion of Nationalism
Roy's prejudice against nationalism is repeated again and again but here is an interesting passage entitled Political religion of Nationalism. This passage is taken from the book quoted earlier: They speak grandiloquently of national interest, national honour and national spirit; behind all these high sounding phrases are hidden the selfish interests of minority. Drugged by the political religion, called Nationalism, a people becomes the Nation which claims and obtains the effacement of individuals composing the people. Rising and capturing power on the authority of the people, the Nation becomes the enemy of popular freedom. The state being the political organisation of society, it is equated with the nation. But it is a historical fact that political organisation of society became necessary when homogenous human communities were divided into possessing and dispossessed classes, and ever since that time the State has been the instrument in the hand of the former to maintain its position of privilege. So, by identifying itself with the State, the Nation becomes antagonistic to the interest and freedom of the people. It is a totalitarian concept. Therefore, nationalist politics cannot but be power politics without any socially liberating principle.
If the nation becomes antagonistic to the interests and opinions of the people, then where was the 'nation' in the Soviet Union? Neither Lenin nor Stalin were, by any stretch of imagination, nationalists. Yet, why was their rule totalitarian? Would M.N. Roy answer from his grave, please?
Roy stank of prejudice when he wrote about patriotism(quoted from Volume II, Selected Works of M.N. Roy, Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2002): It is indeed very encouraging to hear that even a partial knowledge of the work begun by us, that is the Communist Party, has made you think that perhaps after all, it is not necessary for every honest revolutionary to put an end to his life. I prefer the word 'revolutionary' to that of 'patriot' because although in a given historical epoch patriots possess a revolutionary significance, this does not hold true of them at all times and under every circumstance. For example: Mussolini, Poincare, the American Ku Klux Klan, the Manchurian bandit Chang Tsu Lin, Amir Amanulla of Afghanistan, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, Srinivasa Sastri, Sir Surendra Nath Bannerji, Gandhi, Barin Ghose and yourself are all patriots; but imagine what a gulf divides these men one from the other, and what divergent ideals each of them represents! 'Patriotism', therefore, is a very misleading term, which often possesses a very sinister significance. A movement which is based only on patriotism cannot go very far in these days. Pure Indian patriotism smacks of reaction, and produces Gandhis and Arabindas, about whom you have no more illusions.
Little must have M.N. Roy realised, how wrong he could be. Instead of movements based on patriotism, it was the communist state that did not go far and collapsed nearly all over the globe. The only two truly communist states that survive are Cuba under Fidel Castro and North Korea. While China still claims to be a People's Republic, the Communist Party of China has abandoned most principles of Marxism. In the words of Deng Xiaoping, whether the cat is white or black, does not matter as long as it catches mice.
Roy hated Hinduism, a religion into which he was born. His original name was Nabendra Nath Bhattacharya, with a typically Bengali Brahmin surname. Read from Volume IV of his Selected Works edited by Sibnarayan Roy and published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000.
We can understand that an atheist, which is what a communist usually is, would have contempt for religion. Unfortunately, Roy was not even-handed in his contempt. He had a soft corner for Islam and respected the religion and its culture. In 1930, he had named himself Mahmood as stated by Sibnarayan Ray. At the same time, he detested Hinduism. How much he knew about Islam, it is difficult to tell. Whether he talked of the value of Islamic contribution on the basis of his knowledge or out of his hatred of Hinduism, is a matter of conjecture.
Roy also wrote the following in the same volume: Revolutionisation of Hindu thought means nothing less than the end of Hindu orthodoxy; of the Hindu religion itself. Superstition and prejudice are the twin pillars on which all religions rest. Remove these props, and the entire venerable edifice of religion collapses. This general rule is all the more applicable to Hinduism which is reared rather upon social customs and habits than upon an established form of worship or a uniform system of theological dogmas supporting certain definite articles of faith. Curiously enough, those who call themselves 'aggressive nationalists' base the claim to superiority for Hinduism precisely on the evidence of its backwardness. Even as a religion, Hinduism bears the stamp of backwardness. Rigorous monotheism is the highest form of religion.
The expression aggressive nationalists for Hindu patriots used by Roy confirms that he equated Hindus with nationalists. Moreover, the paragraph just quoted exposes his ignorant nastiness. No one can know everything but one is sensible enough not to comment on anything that one does not know. But for Roy the communist, whether he understood Hinduism or not, he had to run it down. Monotheism is faith in one personal God or Allah without ever hoping to meet him except perhaps after death. The Hindu concept of paramatma is far more rational. All living beings form the universe and their individual souls or jeevatmas are parts of the total soul. Which means that all individual beings a part or partners of the divine. There is no personal God in Hinduism. There are innumerable deities and several avtars and their idols help the average person to focus while praying. The mehraab in a mosque and the altar and the: crucifix in a church are beacons for focussing the devotee's attention. Did not M.N. Roy need to go back to kindergarten.