MN Roy

On Students and the National Struggle

Date: May 10, 1923
Published: Political Letters The Vanguard Bookshop, Zurich, 1924
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike B.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


My dear …

While emphasizing our disagreement with the theory that the intellectuals are the salt of the earth, and that their holy mission is to “uplift the downtrodden”, we do not overlook the role that the radical intellectuals play in every revolutionary movement. Therefore, we do not depreciate the necessity of making our ideas known among that section of the students of India who represent the radical tendency of the young intellectuals. Such propaganda is all the more necessary in our country, because of the fact that a considerable section of our intelligentsia is hopelessly bound up with the socio-religious reaction. Under the influence of such deplorable leadership, the minds of our youths are cramped by unhealthy ideas. A determined struggle has to be waged in order to liberate these youthful minds from the clutches of reaction, masquerading as great intellectual lights especially produced in India. The reactionary mental outlook of the average Indian student becomes palpable when he comes to a foreign country. For example, the students’ association in Germany is a dead organization. The leaders stoutly refuse to allow their charges to have any political food, while the rank and file members are sublimely ignorant of everything taking place in the world round about them, although their ignorance is by no means greater than that of their leaders. If in an environment where comparatively more freedom is enjoyed, such a mental lethargy is to be noticed, it is no wonder if things are still worse in India. Therefore it is that any work undertaken by the students among themselves, to come in contact with the world liberation movement is of the very greatest importance.

There is no use in following the beaten track, which has proved so disastrous in all the advanced countries; neither will it do to recoil within the shell of our ancient Hindu culture. The students of India must learn the lessons of history. It is highly dangerous to idealize the student-life of Europe and America. The universities of all these countries are the worst strongholds of reaction, and the students who socially belong to the undermined stratum of the bourgeoisie, are found today actively allied with the blackest forces of counter-revolution. Such an example cannot be beneficial for our youths who aspire to shoulder the task of regenerating a nation. A more revolutionary inspiration is needed if the Indian student is to play a redeeming rôle in the drama of national revolution. Our people are today caught in the throes of a great upheaval which affects every aspect of life; therefore an intellectual revolution is inevitable. We pride ourselves so much on India’s intellectual greatness, but can we trade forever on the worm-eaten pages of the Upanishads? What was good for the society thousand years ago cannot be clung to as the panacea for today. To do so is not a sign of intellectual greatness or freedom. It is stagnation, from which the intellectual life of our nation must be saved. This great historical task rests upon the shoulders of the radical wing of our student body. Every great revolution of the past has produced its intellectual giants, but what has India so far done in this respect? Have our would-be intellectual leaders done anything more than attempt the futile task of pouring old wine into new bottles, — of paraphrasing our old scriptures in an effort to adapt them to new conditions? This is no proof of intellectual greatness, but of intellectual bankruptcy. Sterility in the field of original thinking, — not to mention in the field of revolutionary thought, — is the outstanding characteristic of our intelligentsia. This deplorable condition must be altered before our intellectuals can lay any claim to participate in the regeneration of our society.

Such a miserable plight is certainly not due to any innate inferiority on the part of our people. It is the result of abnormal conditions produced by political subjugation, which has stunted our national growth in every direction. Therefore the termination of this subjugation is the gateway to any real improvement. But this subjugation will not be terminated by hugging the old worn-out socio-religious doctrines and dogmas as a precious heritage, but by discarding them in so far as they are a bondage to progress, and by readjusting them to the new conditions, if they can stand the test of the accumulated human knowledge whose benefit has been denied us by the intervention of Imperialism. The intellectuals of India will earn a place in history only if they can repudiate their traditional allegiance to the — vested interests and become the focus for the forces of revolution. In order to play this rôle, our Indian youth must come in contact with the international movement of revolutionary youths, and refuse any longer to seek inspiration in the reactionary student body of the universities of Europe and America.

Our young boys and girls, the men and women of to-morrow, who are groping for a way out of the darkness of economic privation and intellectual blindness, will be surprised to learn that all over the world, hundreds of thousands of youths, all workers or the children of workers, are growing up with the vision of a new society, and are already lending their help, by active organization and propaganda, towards the destruction of the present social system of organized coercion and exploitation, exercised through the State, public education, religion, literature and philosophy, the press, the cinematograph, and all the other ramifications of bourgeois culture and civilization. It will be a historical day for India when her children will break away, not only from the chains of foreign domination, but also from that mental bondage to the worn-out dogmas of our past religious and social traditions, which our reactionary pseudo-intellectuals pant out in the garb of sweet phrases. Our Indian youth can break away from this bondage only by drinking deep at the fountain of revolutionary thought that inspires the movement of the International of Communist Youths. Many a prejudice must be overcome, many an illusion forgotten before the scions of our middle-class can accept the light shining out of the darkness of slumland. But there is no other way. If our intellectuals sincerely desire to regenerate themselves and to be of any use in the creation of a free society of the future, they will have to forsake their mistaken notions of superiority; they must abandon their conscious or unconscious subservience to the upper classes; they must come down from the proud heights of intellectual isolation; they must cease to feel themselves intellectual aristocrats, — in short, they must accept the leadership of the working-class. Is Young India prepared to do so? If so, then a great and glorious future lies ahead. If not, it converts itself into an advocate of slavery, and nothing but utter degeneration lies in store. The great revolution that convulses the world today will remake the entire human society, and India will not be an exception. Neither Arabindaism nor Gandhism nor any of the other imbecile ’isms that cloud the vision of our Indian youth, will be able to prevent it. It is the peculiar function and privilege of intellectualism to reflect the thought currents generated by the evolution of material conditions. It is not in itself creative; it can only serve as the vehicle of expression. As long, therefore, as intellectualism gives expression to something living, vigorous, young, creative, it ennobles itself thereby; but usually it prostitutes itself by serving as the champion and defender of the established order. The present established order, — bourgeois society, — has become threadbare whereever it exists. India is not excluded, because the social order idealized by our pseudo-intellectuals is a petrified corpse on whose grave modern bourgeois society was reared. It does not require too clever an insight to detect the nature. of the cure-all which our intellectual lights prescribe, not only for India, but for the entire human society. It is a reversion to theocracy or patriarchy, or at best utopia. None of these social orders, real or imaginary, is a special creation of Indian genius. Every developing nation has a similar Golden Age to look back upon, whose “ideal” state of freedom was undermined by the development of economic forces that eventually gave rise to bourgeois society, which in the course of evolution, has also become untenable. These simple lessons of human history, the ABC of Social Science, still remain unlearned by our young intellectuals.

The hypocrisy of bourgeois civilization has been thoroughly exposed. Capitalism has played out its rule. A new society is in the throes of birth. All this is true; yet it does not follow that India can steal history, nor go backwards at the bidding of that moribund reaction which binds the majority of our intellectual leaders hand and foot. No, this cannot be done. What can be done however, is to hasten and in some degree modify the full effects of each successive period by an intensive study and assimilation of the accumulated experience of history. Herein lies an opportunity for our young intellectuals to justify their existence in a revolutionary epoch. To plunge into history in order to present to the struggling Indian people the entire experience gained by the human mind in the fields of social science, of politics, of philosophy, during the last hundred and fifty years; to present this treasure in synthesized form, is a great mission. Young India can and should undertake this noble task; but in order to be able to fulfill it, a revolutionary inspiration should give purpose and meaning to this historic mission. India cannot be led back to the patriarchal Golden Age; the slum-dwellers of Bombay, Calcutta and our other great centers of industry cannot be induced to return to their villages; Capitalism cannot any more be “spiritualized” than it can be kept out of India. But what we can do is to see that the Indian people are benefitted consciously by the knowledge and experience gained in other lands through blood and tears; to so shape the destinies of India that she lives through in a shorter period of time that epoch which lasted two centuries in other parts of the world. Let us equip ourselves to aid in doing this.

May 10, 1923.


MN Roy Internet Archive  |  Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in India
Marxists Internet Archive