M.N. Roy

M.N. Roy (1887–1954) was an Indian political theorist and activist who played a key role in the early development of the Communist Party of India. He was also a philosopher and advocate for radical social and economic reforms.

M.N. Roy


Manabendra Nath Roy, born on March 22, 1887, in Changripota, West Bengal, commenced his political journey as a fervent nationalist with a militant inclination. Originally named Narendranath Bhattacharya, he engaged in clandestine revolutionary activities in India alongside associates such as Prakash Dey and Jatin Mukherjee during his early years. 

Departing from India in 1915, he embarked on travels that included Germany, China, the United States, and Mexico. During his time in Mexico in 1918, he adopted the name M.N Roy. Notably, he founded the Mexican Communist Party in 1917 and the Communist Party of India in 1925. Roy played a pivotal role as a delegate in the Congress of the Communist International, establishing close connections with Lenin and operating at the upper echelons of international communism during his visit to China. M.N. Roy was also involved in revolutionary activities during the Howrah and Kanpur conspiracies in the early 20th century, around the years 1915-1916. These conspiracies were part of the larger anti-colonial movement in India, reflecting Roy’s commitment to challenging British rule in the country. 

However, his efforts to organize communists faced a setback, leading to his expulsion from the Comintern in 1929. Up until this juncture, Roy adhered strictly to Marxism. His political ideas significantly contributed to leftist discourse, emphasizing grassroots politics. As his political ideology evolved, Roy’s communist perspective gained prominence, particularly in opposition to colonialism. He introduced the Theory of Late Capitalism, aligning with Marx’s concept of the “Bourgeoisie and the Counter Revolution.” This theory was applied to colonial countries, highlighting the phenomenon of uneven and combined development.

Upon his return to Indian politics, he underwent a shift in perspective, gravitating towards socialism. Between 1937 and 1954, he progressively distanced himself from communist ideology, formulating his own distinct ideological framework. Possessing extensive knowledge in literature, Roy expressed his ideas and political views prolifically through numerous writings and propagated for partyless democracy for India.

Table of Contents

Political Career

  • Roy was a founder of the Mexican Communist Party (1917)
  • The Communist Party of India (Tashkent group) in October 1920. 
  • Roy joined the Indian National Congress in 1936. He formed his League of Radical Congressmen within congress in 1939. 
  • He left the congress party later in 1940. 
  • He created the Radical Democratic Party in 1940. 

Major Works

  • The Communist International published in 1920. 
  • India in Transition published in 1922 in which he sought to analyze the past, investigate the present and visualize the future of Indian Society through a Marxist standpoint and contains the fundamental ideas of Roy regarding the National Movement in India 
  • The Future of Indian Politics published in 1929. 
  • The Russian Revolution published in 1937. 
  • Historical Role of Islam: An Essay on Islamic Culture published in 1938. 
  • Materialism: An outline of the History of Scientific thought published in 1940 
  • The Problem of Freedom published in 1945 
  • Revolution and Counter-revolution in China published in 1946. 
  • New Humanism: A Manifesto published in 1947 which consists of 22 thesis which outlines the principle of the philosophy of Radical Humanism. 
  • Beyond Communism published in 1947 
  • Reason, Romanticism and Revolution published in 1952 in which Roy wrote about his philosophy of Radical Humanism.  

Analysis of Indian Society

M.N. Roy endeavored to analyze the past and future trajectory of Indian society through a Marxist lens. According to him, India was undergoing a transitional phase that could be evaluated based on the economic advancement of one segment juxtaposed with the exploitation experienced by the rest, fostering a sense of rebellion among the populace. He further classified four classes in India – The Bourgeoisie, The Petty Bourgeoisie, Peasantry, and the proletariat.

In Roy’s view, the essence of this ongoing transition lay in the spirit of revolt, destined to render the current socio-economic structure bankrupt and pave the way for a replacement system that would provide enhanced opportunities for the progress of the people.

He proposed the organization of Indian communists to mobilize the masses for national development, advocating for the establishment of a democratic party as an alternative to the existing nationalist party, the Indian National Congress. According to Roy, the Congress was formed as a nationalist entity by the Indian bourgeoisie to challenge British rule, leveraging the support of the masses. However, once they succeeded in overthrowing the British, he contended that they would betray the masses. He was very critical of congress and highly criticized Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru. Therefore, he asserted that the lower social classes should be the foundation of the Indian Nationalist Movement.

Modified Views of M.N. Roy

During his imprisonment from 1930 to 1936, M.N. Roy underwent a reevaluation of the fundamental tenets of Marxism and revolutionary strategies. His immediate goal shifted towards attaining national independence, viewing the Indian National Congress as a crucial force in the struggle for independence, supported by the masses. Roy revised his stance on the political maturity of Indian masses, considering them politically backward and emphasizing the Congress as a mass nationalist movement rather than a party for a specific class. Additionally, he advocated for the replacement of communism with Jacobinism in the Indian context.

Radical or New Humanism

M.N. Roy’s concept of Radical Humanism or New Humanism is often perceived as a revival of the Rationalist or Scientific Humanism of the European Renaissance. Within this framework, he envisioned Radical Humanism as a revolutionary and liberating social philosophy, encapsulating three key concepts of freedom, reason, and morality. Roy assigned the task of creating a ‘free society of free men’ to individuals equipped with the creative power of ideas, asserting that individuals are the architects of society and the state.

According to Roy, the primary goal of man-made institutions is to expand individual freedom, with the foundation of democracy rooted in the sovereignty and freedom of the individual. Later he also created the Radical Democratic party in 1943 and also established the Indian Renaissance Institute with B.R Ambedkar. Radical Humanism, as championed by Roy, advocates for democratic freedom and economic equality by eliminating the exploitation of man. He proposed the establishment of a Radical Humanist society through education and called for the transformation of parliamentary democracy into an organized democracy. In this envisioned system, a countrywide network of people’s committees would enable individuals to exercise direct and effective control over the entire state machinery, with politics characterized by scientific, moral, and rational principles.

Critique of Marxism

Roy’s concept of Radical Humanism marked a total departure from Marxism, which he criticized as suitable only for advanced industrialized societies and unsuitable for backward countries. He contended that Marxism hindered the growth of free men by negating the creativeness of man and compromising individual freedom through its economic interpretation of history.

Roy pointed out contradictions in Marx’s theory of Dialectical Materialism, deeming it unscientific due to the combination of contradictory concepts—dialectics as subjective and materialism as scientific. He refuted Marx’s prediction of the disappearance of the middle class, highlighting the expansion of the middle class within capitalist societies.

Furthermore, Roy criticized Marxism for its purported inability to transcend the economic organization of society, asserting that it sacrificed individual freedom and violated democratic principles in pursuit of the greatest good for the greatest number. In essence, M.N. Roy’s critical examination of Marxism paved the way for his advocacy of Radical Humanism as a more suitable and comprehensive philosophical framework for societal transformation.

Famous Quotes of M.N. Roy

  • ‘Freedom, knowledge, truth are values to be appreciated together by living them’. 
  • ‘A free society can be created only by free men…a good society can be created only by good men’. 
  • ‘Human nature is an ensemble of social relation’
  • ‘Machine must subserve man’s purpose – Contribute to his freedom’
  • ‘Marxism is the heritage of humanity’
  • ‘It is very doubtful if a moral object can ever be attained by immoral means’
  • ‘Party system will bring out the worst in people and political party leaders will bring out ultimate backwardness in people’. 
  • ‘Man is essentially a rational being. His basic urge is not to believe, but to question, to know’. 
  • ‘Science is the result of and instrument for acquiring more and more knowledge’
  • ‘Days of classic imperialism were over’ – Gave theory of Decolonization.
  • ‘Party Politics has given rise to power politics’
  • ‘Once the god let in, there is an end to the sovereignty of man’
  • ‘Revolution as subversion of the status quo and reorganization of society on the basis of freedom and equality’.
  • M.N. Roy envisaged the conflict of the present age as well as between the all devoting collective ego – Whether of the nation or of the class and the individual struggling for freedom.


Manabendra Nath Roy’s life and work embody the spirit of an era marked by revolutionary fervor and intellectual vigor. His legacy as a thinker, revolutionary, and political leader endures, shaping the discourse on Marxism, communism, and the trajectory of India’s political landscape. In a world undergoing profound change, M.N. Roy’s contributions remain a source of inspiration and a reminder of the power of ideas to transform societies.

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