MN Roy

On the Duty of Revolutionary Intellectuals

Date: August 15, 1923
Published: Political Letters The Vanguard Bookshop, Zurich, 1924
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike B.
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Dear Friends

Despite the abhorrence to all things revolutionary which the Non-cooperation Movement displayed, your faith in its potentiality was really pathetic. I suppose the apparent powerfulness of the movement prevented you from analysing its composition aid discovering its inherent weaknesses, — weaknesses which however, could not be concealed for long. You were charitable and chose to wait patiently. The philosophy behind this attitude was that of the good old days, — submerge the Individual to the Cause. But before debarring oneself completely from the right of private judgment, it is necessary to know thoroughly the nature, ideals and principles that go into the making of a Cause, as well as the factors, objective and subjective, that conduce towards its attainment. You chose to sacrifice your individual criticism to the cause of Non-cooperation, but what was this cause, after all? What did you sacrifice yourself for? When more than two years ago, I raised my voice against this hypocrisy of Non-cooperation, and had the courage to utter convictions which though true were not agreeable, this philosophy of selflessness made you look upon me with displeasure. I am ready to grant that, not understanding its inherent defects, it was right on your part to take such an attitude of loyalty towards a movement which held out big possibilities. But even this much cannot be said now. The movement from which you expected so much, is dead. It is not necessary for you to give me the credit of having made a correct estimate. What I do expect is that you should be realists enough to understand that nothing any longer exists to exact from you a loyalty whose most fatal consequence was complete inertness on your part. The time has come for you to take a definite stand.

The Non-Cooperation Movement is a thing of the past. The Congress is divided into more than two factions. The predominating tendency is towards the right, that is, towards resumption of the old constitutional methods which, by the way, will prove much more powerful in the next stages of our movement than the utter confusion which reigned in the latter days of Non-cooperation. But constitutional agitation, while impelling the movement forward to a certain degree, is not what is needed for the attainment of freedom. It will merely be a step forward; that is all. The other sections of the Non-cooperation camp are drifting like ships with broken rudders, — there is no programme, no purpose, no leadership. The Government is taking advantage of the present chaos; therefore, it certainly does not behoove the revolutionary elements of our movement to remain passive at this fateful juncture. They must act.

There are two ways ahead; either to join forces with the faction of Constitutional Democracy or to evolve a new leadership, in conformity with the objective needs of the country. The dissensions in the No-Change camp show that the rank and file of the Congress contains a considerable revolutionary element, which is as yet unconscious of its own significance and potentiality. This element is going through a period of disillusionment. At every step, it is being betrayed by leaders in whom its members placed such faith. Now is the most suitable moment for those conscious revolutionaries, who constitute the vanguard of the Army of Freedom, to assert themselves and to place themselves at the head of these disorganized and scattered forces. When I am asked: “What should be done?”, I reply: “There is an army without command; put yourselves at its head”. The real question is: How can this be done? What we have been doing, speaking and writing for these past two years (and which has made me incur your displeasure), is to supply an answer to this question, which it was certain, must eventually arise.

Now to recapitulate the practical aspects of our proposed solution. There must be a new party. Not the old secret organizations without any political outlook, but an open mass organization with a socio-economic programme. You are perhaps not unaware that the organization of such a party has been started all over the country, and the Government is the first to understand the significance of such a thing; therefore it comes down upon this embryonic party with the heavy hand of repression. The cry of “Bolshevism” is raised, and the majority of the nationalists are alarmed by this cry. But the more alarmed they become, the more will the hand of the government be strengthened. If the comfortable position of Imperialism is to be threatened, a revolutionary mass party must come into being, and a mass party cannot be organized in India — without a programme which places the economic needs of the workers and peasants in the forefront.

Call it Bolshevism if you choose. In that case, let me be brutally frank and tell you openly that the salvation of India lies through Bolshevism. But we need not be such sensationalists. Bolshevism is a long way off from India. We will have to go through many other “isms” before we come to that stage. Every inch of ground in these intervening stages has also to be fought for. The experience of the past three years must have convinced those with an open mind that the nation is composed of two elements, — one that can make a terrible noise but which will not fight; the other that appears to be dumb, ignorant, undisciplined, and all the rest of it, but which is ready and capable of fighting. The first has so far been holding the center of the stage; the time has now come for the latter. Only class-interests and class-prejudice can prevent one from recognizing this outstanding feature of the national struggle today. Our de-classed intellectuals cannot have any class-interest, since they have long since been divested of any property-rights and titles; hence their revolutionary tendency. The political and economic development of the native bourgeoisie, not at the expense of, but in conjunction with Imperialism, will not solve the problem that faces the lower middle-class intellectuals, — the problem of how to survive in the daily struggle for existence. There remains however, a hereditary and lingering class-prejudice, on the part of these lower middle-class intellectuals, which allies them psychologically with the propertied classes, and prevents them from recognizing clearly the truth of their own status, — that of intellectual proletarians, whose proper and only place is by the side of the expropriated masses.

However, the distance to travel from economic declassification to psychological declassification is a very short one. The alarm raised by the growing unemployment among our lower middle-class, proves that is it not at all impossible for true revolutionaries to travel this short distance. One has only to be a little less sentimental and a little more realistic, and the journey is half accomplished. Leaving aside for a moment the question of the welfare of the toiling masses, we may ask: What benefit will accrue to the class we all belong to, — the lower middle-class, — if any of the existing political programmes now put forward are realized, be it the programme of the Moderates, be it of the Responsive Cooperators (now called Swarajists), or be it of the orthodox Non-Cooperators, if such an ilk still exists? Nationalism is no moon-shine; there is always some material interest behind the species of nationalism put forward by the various classes into which the people are divided. You will accuse me of vulgar materialism. Well, all I ask you is: How is your programme of Cultural Nationalism going to be realized when the very brain of our tribe is being dried up by malnutrition and disease? Just think of living on thirty rupees a month, and even that princely standard is vanishing every day! Can you still expect a clerk with a family to support on thirty rupees a month, with the cost of living rising every day, to dream of the cultural nationalism of Vivekenanda or of Arabinda (which is nothing but spiritual imperialism); much less, how can you expect him to fight for it? There is no such thing as “defensive nationalism”, as C.R. Das preaches. It is stupidity or sheer hypocrisy to say that our nationalism will be different from European nationalism. Nationalism is always aggressive, directly or indirectly. The history of the national development of every country proves this fact conclusively. The ultimate goal of Indian nationalism is to conquer the world, — it may be by “non-violent and peaceful means”. But is it not ridiculous to aspire world domination, even a cultural or “spiritual” one, when we are not. capable of securing a full meal a day for ourselves and our families? The talk of “cultural nationalism”, of “spiritual nationalism” is all camouflage. The upper and middle classes, (the bourgeoisie’) whose members wish to convert the national freedom into freedom for themselves to exploit the rest of the nation, — our propertied classes use the theories of India’s “cultural mission”, “spiritual mission” and all the rest of such tommyrot, only to fool the lower middle-class, which has every reason on earth to be revolutionary, and to place itself at the head of a mass movement aimed to secure real freedom for the majority of the Indian people.

The collapse of the Non-cooperation Movement and the gradual but unmistakable revelation of the true colours of the Swaraj Party are putting the lower middle-class into a susceptible frame of mind. They will soon be amenable to reason. The ravings of the “Servant” will not be able to drug them very much longer. The time has come to give them a new leadership, — to point out a new way. But by themselves, the lower middle-class is utterly incapable of doing anything. Its members must either be the miserable and deluded followers of the bourgeoisie, or divesting themselves of all class-prejudice, they must throw in their lot once and for all with the workers and peasants. In the latter case, they will have the chance of playing a political role, if they are courageous.

Therefore, my proposition is that you should shake off your passive attitude and appear in the political field, not as an appendage to some worn-out faction, but as an independent force with a new vision, with a new programme. If such a step is not taken, a deplorable situation will result. Despair will drive the revolutionary middle-class intellectuals to resume the futile tactics of individual terrorism, which will be fatal, and will kill the possibility of a legal political mass party for a long time to come. Such a tendency is already being manifested in the Punjab. The sabotage of the Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee ruined the Akali movement. What few consciously revolutionary leaders there were, were taken away by the government. The rank and file were thrown into confusion and despair. The result has been the rise of the Baber Akalis, — a victory of the Gadhr cult of revolutionary terrorism. The days are gone in which insurrectionary movements prove helpful to great political struggles, whose progress is obstructed by the savage repression which immediately follows such an outbreak of premature violence. If we are not careful, there will be a recrudescence of the terrorist movement all over the country, the stamping out of which will mean an era of martial law and an end to whatever few constitutional rights we possess of press, speech and assembly. What is now needed is not individual terrorism, but the organization of a vast, all-India political party of the workers and peasants, upon a programme of economic and social emancipation broad enough to include the expropriated lower middle-class, and to draw within its folds all the truly revolutionary elements in the country, who will find in such a party not merely something corresponding to their own interests, but a scope for practical and constructive political activity as well.

About the programme, tactics and methods of the organization of such a party, I have written exhaustively. In short, we must provide some outlet for the energies of those impatient youths who have been waiting three years for the declaration of Civil Disobedience, and who have waited so long in vain. Such an outlet can be found in organization and propaganda activities, — in work which will bring the masses consciously within the fold of the new movement. Such activities will awaken the class-interest of the workers, by explaining to them their economic condition and pointing the way out of it. It is necessary not only to show them the goal, but to be with them in their struggle for their everyday needs, and thus win their confidence. Gandhi shed crocodile tears for the masses; Das has talked volubly about the necessity for organizing the workers, but neither has done anything practical in this direction, nor has either of them meant to do so, in the direction which has been outlined by us. Let us do the work which they and others have left undone. We can prove ourselves different from the rest only when we recognise the fact that our relation with the working-class is neither one of humanitarianism, nor of political exigency, but that it is an organic relation of common interests. The interest of our class is irrevocable interlinked with that of the working-class. First of all we must be conscious of this fundamental truth and work honestly according to this conviction; then the rest will be clear. If our propaganda helps to create an understanding of the Indian situation as viewed in the light of historic materialism; if it tends to awaken the class-consciousness of the oppressed and exploited majority; if it carries conviction to the questioning minds of these Indian revolutionaries who are at present groping in the dark, and sets their feet on the only path that can lead to the real freedom of our country and people, — then our work has not been in vain. We call upon all those who are honestly convinced that the road to freedom lies this way, to throw themselves into the great work of organizing a mass-party of the Indian workers and peasants upon a programme of economic and social emancipation, and under the slogan a “Not the Masses for Revolution, but Revolution for the Masses”

August 15, 1923.


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