23 M.N. Roy and Radical Humanism

Dr.Vandana Arora

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  • Abstract
  • Learning Objectives
  • Introduction
  • Life Sketch
  • M.N. Roy’s place in Indian tradition
  • Humanism
  • Reasons for Evolution of Radical Humanism
  • Philosophical foundation of Radical Humanism
  • Belief in Materialism
  • Characteristics of Materialism
  • Belief in Knowledge
  • Rejection of Metaphysical Dualism
  • Challenges to the theory of Materialism
  • Roy’s New Humanism: Twenty-Two Theses On Radical Democracy
  • Basic Tenets of New Humanism Humanist Interpretation of History Inadequacies of Communism
  • Shortcomings of Formal Parliamentary Democracy Radical Democracy
  • Philosophical Revolution or Renaissance Emphasis on Ethics
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Self Assessment




M.N. Roy ( 21.03.1887 to 25.01.1954), was perhaps the most fascinating radical among the Indian nationalist of his generation. He tried to synthesize different elements of rationalistic renaissance, physical realistic cosmology, humanistic ethics and a passionate quest for freedom.


Key Words -Marxism, Materialism, Radical Humanism, Renaissance, Radical Democracy, Ethics, Party less Politics


Learning Objective:

  • To understand concept of Humanism, Radical Humanism
  • To trace the evolution of M.N. Roy journey from Marxism to Radical Humanism
  • Factors which led to development of Radical Humanism




M.N. Roy, who founded the philosophy of Radical Humanism was in many ways a unique person. He distinguished himself both as a man of action and as a man of thought. In both the fields, he lived an intense life. As a man of action, he was a devoted and dedicated revolutionary. As a man of thought, he developed into a profound and original social philosopher. There was a fine blend of Romanticism and Rationalism in his mental make-up. His practical experience and evolving thought led him through three distinct phases of political life. He started as an ardent nationalist, became an equally ardent communist and ended as a creatively active radical humanist.


Brief Biographical Sketch Of M.N Roy’s Life


M.N.Roy, whose real name happened to be Narendra Nath Bhattacharya was born in district of 24 Parganas, West Bengal on 21stMarch, 1887. At the age of twelve he joined the revolutionary movement in Bengal led by Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Jatin Mukherjee and others, and played a prominent role, having escaped imprisonment several times. During the World War-I, he left this country in search of arms and ammunitions to overthrow the British rule and made contacts with Gennany.


Several such attempts having failed, at last Narendra Nath went to America via Japan and China, and lived for some time with Lala Lajpat Rai. There he changed his name to Manabendra Nath Roy and became attracted towards radical views; his interest in Marxism also developed during this time. Here, he was arrested for conspiracy against the British government, interrogated and sent for trial from where he managed to escape. He fled to Mexico and participated actively in Mexican politics, having become the General Secretary of the Socialist Party which was later transformed into the first Communist Party in the world outside the Soviet Union. It is here, that he came in contact with Borodin, who took refuge at Roy’s place as one of the emissaries of the new regime in Russia. Russian revolution having just taken place at that time.


Roy’s exploits in Mexico drew the attention of Lenin, who invited him to Russia to attend the Second World Congress in 1920. At the Congress, Roy differed with Lenin on the colonial question. He had soon to play an important role in the international Communist Movement and became the head of the Eastern Department of Communist International and of the Communist University. In the fateful days of 1926-27 he was sent to China as a representative of the Communist International to advise the Chinese Communist Party. His advice went unheeded, though his stand was subsequently vindicated; meanwhile the Chinese Communist Party faced a debacle, and Roy was called back to Moscow, where he had further difference of opinion with the leaders on matters of policy.


After a few years Roy came back to India, and went in for a term of six years rigorous imprisonment, mostly spent in solitary confinement. This period was in a sense most fruitful in literary activities, his major philosophical works having been written during this time. In 1936, Roy cane out of jail, joined the Congress and till the beginning of the Second World War fought vigorously for the activation of the primary Congress Committees with his famous slogan of ‘Power for the People’. He married Ellen Gotschalk in 1937.


On the issue of the participation in the anti-fascist war he broke away from the Congress and formed the Radical Democratic Party. In 1946, Roy came out with his Philosophy of New Humanism which had been taking shape in his mind for a long time, party-less politics being its natural implication, the R.D.P. was dissolved in 1948. Since then, Roy had been developing his ideas and trying to gave a practical shape to the humanist movement in this country. In the meantime, his new message reached abroad and he was invited by the UNESCO as well as by a number of Universities in America to deliver a series of lectures. But, unfortunately when arrangements were nearly complete for his proposed tour, he met with a serious accident, following close on its heels came an attack of cerebral thrombosis and after prolonged illness he expired on the 15thJanuary,1954.


M.N.Roy was perhaps the first Indian thinker who appreciated clearly the significance of the major breakthrough of the citadel of Imperialism by the forces generated consequent to World War- II. He maintained that if the war was fought to the fish, and if it results in the defeat of inter-national fascism, the success would be of British democracy and not of British Imperialism, and that in consequence, India would come nearer to the goal of attaining its freedom. He was the first to maintain that the issue of Capitalism versus Socialism was bound to make way to Democracy versus Totalitarianism. Roy was again first among the very few to recognise fully and clearly the implications of the enormous destructive power developed during the war and its bearing on the idea and technique of revolution.


M.N. Roy did not stop at pointing out these facts. He went ahead to seek a real new path of revolution. The function of a revolution and the accompanying liberating social philosophy he insisted, was to lay emphasis on the basic fact of history, that ‘Man is the maker of his world’:


Man as a human being, can be so only as an individual. The brain is the means of production and produces the most revolutionary commodity – thought or ideas. Revolutions pre-suppose lipoclastic ideas. An increasingly large number of men, conscious of their creative power motivated by an indomitable will to remake the world, moved by the adventure of ideas, and fixed with the ideal of a free society of free men, can create conditions under which democracy would be possible. Spiritually, free individuals at the helm of affairs would be able to smash all chains of slavery and usher in freedom for all’. This statement of a new approach’to the problems, led him into an inquiry into the cause of the crisis of modern civilization.


He found that “the roots of all the evils of the modern world could be traced to the absence of man’s faith in himself’. If better individuals are the need of the time, there must be men with the faith in the capacity to do so. The new institutions to be stable must be built from the bottom up. That cannot be done by governments, political parties, even by great dictators, Institutions imposed from above collapse, when they are not sustained by intelligent will of individual men and women comprising the society. But today, man lives in an atmosphere of helplessness and frustration. In this atmosphere, nothing whatsoever can be built. That is why, the imposing structure of modern civilization is crumbling’. Roy, not only had tremendous faith in the innate rationality of the human being, but he tried to prove with the help of findings in biology that rationality was needed for the survival of man, and hence it was natural for men to be rational and therefore moral.


He also thought that society is a creation of man quest of freedom. The quest for freedom is the continuation of the primitive man’s struggle for existence; as such it is the basic urge of all social advancement. Freedom is the progressive elimination of all the factors – physical, social and psychological, which obstruct the unfolding of man’s rational, moral and creative potentialities. The function of social relationships should be to secure for individuals as individuals. The sum total of freedom actually enjoyed by its members individually is the measure of the liberating progressive significance of any social order. Otherwise the ideals of social liberation and progress me deceptive.


To help ordinary, helpless, ignorant and poor Indian people to achieve this freedom, Roy showed a very simple way of action to the humanists by stating a definite yet general programme for the Radical Humanist Movement. The primary task of the Movement would be to bring about cultural renaissance by propagating the philosophy of New humanism and through its application to political, economic and other social problems. To consolidate the intellectual basis of the movement, Radicals would continue to submit their philosophy to constant research, examine it in the light of modem scientific knowledge and experience, and extends application to all the other social sciences. They would also at the same time, propagate the essentials of the philosophy amongst people as a whole, by showing its relevance to their present needs. They would make the people conscious of the urge for freedom, encourage their self-reliance and awaken in them the sense of individual &pity, inculcate the values of nationalism and secular morality, besides spreading the spirit of cosmopolitan Humanism. By showing people the way to solve their daily problems through popular initiative the Radicals would combat ignorance, fatalism, blind faith and sense of individual


M.N. Roy’s Place in Indian Tradition


It is frequently believed, that the Indian philosophical tradition is predominantly spiritualistic and that the belief in God constitutes its most important element. In fact ancient Indians must be credited with producing the most extensive atheistic and rationalistic literature in the world. The authors of this literature had advanced varied theories and arguments against the existence of God. Undoubtedly, the most important of them was the doctrine of nature. With this doctrine they could counter the doctrine of God, very effectively. The doctrine of nature received its most characteristic treatment in the Samkhya philosophy, which once enjoyed tremendous prestige in the country. According to this primeval matter (Prakiiti), moved by the laws of motion inherent in it (Sadabhava), was quite sufficient to account for the being and along with the Prakriiti,. It is, however not at all an acceptable and played no part in the origin and development of this world of multiplicity and plurality, for having evolved from Prakriiti alone. The concept is entirely superfluous in the Sanlkhya philosophy. In spite of this flaw, it cannot be gainsaid that the svahhavavada of the Samkhya is scientific in spirit. And the scientific spirit, as it exists today, is older than modern science. The latter only made the doctrine surer of itself. Darwinism, particularly, gave it a powerful impetus. One cannot but marvel today that the Santkhyaiadins had, so early in the history of human thought, formulated merely by philosophical insight certain propositions, which are not much different from those made by modem scientists. In ancient India, the scientific spirit rose in opposition to the mythological and theological explanations of various phenomena.


Naturally, the Sanlkhya practically, all its basic literature was destroyed by the latter. Besides Kapila, there are also several references to a number of post-Kapila teachers like Panchasikha, Asuri, Sanaka, Vodhu and Sananda. But, none of their treatises could be traced. Subsequently, Vedantist commentators like Vachaspati Misra, Gaudapada, Aniluddha and Vijnanabhikshu undertook to reconstruct the philosophy, and in the process they brought it in the pale of Vedantic thought, current with a shift of emphasis.


As a result, the Samkhya lost its distinctive character. It is true that Buddhism was originally inspired by the Samkhya. Scarcely a century after Kapila, Buddha was born at Kapila Vastu, the veryplace where the originator of the Sanikhya system lived’. In those days the Nepal-Biharregion was still comparatively free from the influence of Vedic-Brahmanism. So the earliest attempts could be made there to explain the mystery of the universe by means of reason. Trade is a source of heretical ideas, and Kapilavastu was an important trade and political centre on the great eastern trade route, which went north fromRajgir to the Nepal Terai. Buddha naturally caught up with many of the rationalist ideas of the Samkhyaprevalent in the region. But, a more definite influence of the Samkhya upon him can also be traced from the fact that, one of his early teachers, Arada belonged to this school.


Even as Buddha obtained the principal tenets of his philosophy from the Samkhya, his interest was fundamentally different from that of Kapila.Buddha placed far more emphasis on ethics than on metaphysics. Ontological and epistemological questions therefore did not concern him much. The later disciples of Buddha, of course, could not remain aloof from metaphysical controversies. They saw that it was not easy to defend the teachings of the Master, unless they clearly took an anti-theistic position. Hence, different atheistic schools developed within the fold of the Buddhist movement. Many subtle and dialectical arguments were put forward to prove the existence of God. But, not much attention was paid to the doctrine of nature. And if the doctrine had no more in Buddhism, its future became completely bleak after its fall, which signified the virtual termination of the rationalist phase of Indian thought. The Brahminical reaction then came to acquire a complete hold over the Indian mind, and the original Samkhya tradition no longer had a chance of survival. Centuries later, M.N. Roy revived that tradition. Basically his philosophy of New Humanism is the Samkhya doctrine of nature enriched by modern science. Roy took up the threads where the Samkhyavadins left. The latter established that this universe is auto-dynamic, because it has vajas or energy as one of its constituents and that it is also self-sufficient. Roy went a step further and concluded, that born out of this law-governed universe, man too is self-sufficient and auto-dynamic. It means that man has inherited from nature all the basic gunas, which he needs for making his own destiny. According to Roy, these gunas are three in number, urge for freedom, rationality and morality.


The instinct of self-preservation in nature has become, with man itshighest product, an urge for freedom. The determinism of nature has taken the shape of rationality in the case of man, and the harmony of nature in that of morality. This attempt by Roy to explain man is again a new application of the Samkhya principal of Satkaryavada. If for deriving inspiration for his dialectical thinking Marx “once again returned to the mode of contemplation of the great founders of the Greek philosophy”, Roy returned to the mode of contemplation of one of the great founders of Indian philosophy, for inspiration after cutting a drift from the anchor of Marxism. In his philosophy of New Humanism, Roy has sought to co-ordinate the knowledge so far accumulated in the different departments of science, and to present a unified picture of the being and becoming of man, in the light of that know ledge. The gaps in this knowledge he tried to fill on the basis of the ancient Samakhya doctrine. In that sense Roy is a modern Kapila’.




“Humanism is derived from the Latin word “Humanus” meaning a system of thought concerned with human affairs in general. Humanism is an attitude which attaches primary importance to Man and his faculties, affairs and aspirations. Humanism had to pass through a process of development and change, but its main idea was that Man must remain the Supreme Being. Humanism means respect for man as Man and not only because of his individual achievements. The essence of Humanism is the importance placed on human being, the individual as the centre of all aspirations of human activities. And, there should no dogmatic authority over life and thought.”According to Oxford Dictionarym “an outlook of system of thought concerned with human rather than divine or supernatural matters” It is a doctrine according to which man is a point of departure and point of reference of human action.


Reason for the Evolution of Radical Humanism: From Marxism to Radical Humanism


The genesis of the concept of new humanism lies in the frustration of Roy with the subtle characteristics of the Marxian philosophy like its feeble ethical moorings and overemphasis on the economic interpretation of the history to the substantive, if not total, disregard to the value of the intellect in the dynamics of the historical processes. Thus, initially Roy tried to evolve a radical perspective on humanism which still had a lot to owe to Marxism. However, dissatisfied even with his radical incarnation, Roy made the final move of propounding a theory rooted in integral scientific humanism which he called as the ‘new humanism, new, because it is humanism enriched, reinforced and elaborated by scientific knowledge and social experience gained during the centuries of modern civilisation’ .


The philosophy of radical humanism or new humanism represents the zenith of an intellectually bewildering journey spanning over a period of over 30 years. Roy also disapproves Marxian theory of class struggle. According to Roy, Marx’s theory of class struggle has degraded individual consciousness. He was also critical of Marx giving too much importance to the working class. Roy believes that polarization of capitalist society into the exploiting and the working class never takes place. Roy did not regard extra value as a peculiar feature of capitalism. He believes that the creation of surplus value and accumulation of capital were also in a socialist society.


According to Roy, the Marxian interpretation in history is faulty because it allows slender role to mental activity in the social process. The intelligence of human being and their cumulative actions are very powerful social forces. Roy also condemns the Marxian economic interpretation of history.



Philosophical Foundations of Radical Humanism


Belief in Materialism


M.N. Roy was a thoroughgoing materialist. His philosophy is materialism and materialism is the only possible philosophy for him. It represents the knowledge of nature. Knowledge that is acquired through contemplation, observation and investigation of the phenomena of nature itself forms its basis. Therefore, his materialism is not a monstrosity it is generally supposed to be it is not the cult of “eat, drink and be merry”‘ as it has been detected by some of its adversaries. Materialism is a monistic system of thought. But this ultimate system would not negate the resort to pluralist concepts of making explicit the process of the becoming of matter.


Roy is very anxious to repudiate the prevalent association of materialism with some kind of philosophy of life or a mere pursuit of hedonism. Materialism is only on account of the evolution and processes of the cosmos and it does not mean sensuous egoism. It simply maintains that the origin of everything that really exists is matter, all the other appearances being the various transformations of matter. And these transformations are governed necessarily by laws inherent in nature.


Roy’s Materialism is the only philosophy possible, restated with the help of scientific knowledge. Materialism has been the most relevant hypothesis for a philosopher like M.N. Roy, to lay the foundations for his rationalistic, philosophical thought and fruitful scientific investigation. Another, in the last analysis, merges into religion or ends in the absurdity or sophism.


In Roy’s opinion, the basic principle of materialism can be stated in many ways, that the world is self-contained and self-explained. The world exists objectively physical as well as biological; there is nothing beyond and outside it. It being and the becoming are governed by laws inherent in itself; laws are neither mysterious not metaphysical, nor merely conventional; there are coherent relations of events. Consciousness is a property of that, which distinguishes existence from non-existence, in a certain state of organisation. This philosophical generalisation of the various branches of scientific knowledge may be termed objectivism, naturalism or realism or by any other name but M.N. Roy prefers materialism. For him, it makes no essential difference. Onlythe term matterhas a historical meaning, as it rules out illusions and superstitions which debate philosophy into religion.


Characteristics of Materialism


The distinguishing feature of materialism is that it is not a closed system like all the other schools of philosophy. It is not a dogma. It is a method of approaching nature, history, society in all its diverse departments. In short, life as a whole, indeed, in the narrow and speculative sense, materialism liquidates philosophy, in as much as it declares that there cannot be an end to the process of acquiring Knowledge.


Yet another feature of materialism is that sense-perception is the foundation of all knowledge. The implication of this feature is the denial of innate ideas. Consciousness does not exist independent of external objects. But when it is asserted and more clearly by modem sensationalism as was done by Sophism, the formed ground of materialism is abandoned. So the starting point of materialism is the acceptance of the objective reality of things. The relation between the perception of a thing and the thing itself has been an enduring subject for ages, the central contention of speculative philosophy. The development of natural sciences has put an end to that disputation. The known claim of any scientific knowledge would doubt that conception of a tree corresponds with the tree itself. Any such doubt has been dispelled, since man began to get acquainted with nature, through his activities, when a thing reproduced by a man corresponds with the original object of his perception, as there can no longer be any possible doubt about the objective reality of things and the correctness of the perception of them.


Belief in Knowledge


According to M.N Roy, except thoroughgoing idealists, no modem philosopher has disputed the existence of the external world; excepting for the possibility of knowing it. Knowing is an act of mind. Knowledge, however, is not identical with thought, any more than thought is identical with being. Thought is mind’s inherent property, whereas knowledge is acquired from outside. One is inherent, while the other is acquired from outside. Sensations are bodily events. They are causally connected with the external world. Knowing as well as perception takes place on the plane of direct physical contact. The causal chain is physical, not logical. Therefore for Roy, all arguments of the subjectivity are irrelevant. The other link is similar to the causal connection between events in relation, between sensations and their external causes. It is governed by physical laws.


The median link is the natural connection between the organs of sensation and the brain. It has also to do with the organic property of reaction to stimuli. The process is electro- chemical. It is further subject to physical laws. Thus, perception is no mystery. Perception as well as sensation is an event in the physical continuum, which includes the body. Therefore, it puts mind in direct contact with the external world. It is not a contact between two qualitatively different entities. Mind itself originates in the organic property of reaction to stimuli. So the last link is cognition. It is also a physical relation. However, in the opinion of M.N .Roy, cognition is not a tacit perception or recording of messages from the external world. The messages are stimuli, Cognition is an intelligent reaction to them. Perception is an automatic organicreaction. Cognition is an interpretative, selective act. Knowledge is not a mere conglomeration of messages received at random. It is a characterising judgment about the nature of things, from which the messages come. Higher organisms with developed brains possess the faculty, not only of receiving impressions of the environment, but of weaving them into a coherent mental picture of the physical reality they represent.


For Roy, Knowledge results from the constant and continuous reference of precepts to their external sources. That is done in various ways – actions of daily life, planned experiment, intelligent observation, memory, thought and the domination by the unconscious of all our conscious behaviour. Knowledge is a conceptual scheme born out of insight into the nature of things. It is gained through critical examination, rational co-ordination and logical deduction of perceptual data. Further, Roy’s materialism is monistic.


Philosophy has always disliked dualism, which has linked philosophical thought ever since. Descartes freed philosophy from theology, but placed it under the hegemony of the mind, which he conceived as an immaterial substance. But the anti-thetical concepts of mind and matter could not be reconciled by speculative thought, according to M.N. Roy. The development of natural sciences brought the reconciliation of mind and matter within reach. Modem psychology began to unravel the mysteries of the mind aided by psychology. The new physics has overcome the last hurdle with its dynamic conception of matter.


Rejection of Metaphysical Dualism


Thus, M.N.Roy rules out all sorts of metaphysical dualism which divides the world into two separate realisms, material and spiritual. Metaphysical dualism also divides man into two entities. It also gives rise to a dualistic psychology and dualistic ethics. This dualism has always been a refuge for supernatural religion. However, man can be made spiritually free only through abolishing the supernatural. True spiritual freedom, according to M.N. Roy, does not mean the freedom to choose from among many religions. It means the freedom of the human spirit from the tyranny of all of them. Therefore, M.N.Roy world view has hardly any room for supernaturalism to play any part in it. His theory of the universe is monistic Materialism. As a matter of fact, the philosophy of M.N. Roy follows from the general philosophy of materialism, restated in the light of modem scientific knowledge. His philosophy entails the philosophy of materialism applied to the problems of social existence.


The application is the result of a logical co-ordination and integration of empirical knowledge into an all-embracing explanation of existence. Roy was also of the view that Materialism does not amount to taking a sheer hedonistic view of life. It consists in claiming the primacy of matter over the mind. Man’s brain which produces ideas is a lump of a physico-chemical combination resulting from the entire process of biological evolution, in its turn, the biological evolution occurs in the context of physical nature which is the world of dead matter. The Physical origin of mental phenomena solves the hitherto baffling problem of dualism between mind and matter, according to Roy.


Challenges to the theory of Materialism


It is true that materialism is still a hypothesis only. But there is no gainsaying the fact, that it is the most plausible hypothesis for fruitful philosophical speculations and scientific investigations. The other rival views of life like Idealism, and others are also no better than so many hypotheses bordering on ecclesiastical obscurantism. None of these views could even prove its assumptions and verify its postulates, as against this, even if some of them are not known at present, the categories of materialism are not obscure. However, recently a serious challenge has been presented to materialism as a cosmology. It has started with the discovery of modern physics or new physics, that the atom is not the ultimate unit of matter, as a result of which matter has come to be dematerialised. The validity of the classical concept of causality has also been questioned, some scientists mid philosophers then begin hastily proclaiming that when there in no matter as the sub-stratum of the world and there is no law of causality, then the cosmology and philosophy of materialism cannot stand. According to them, the universe is not a self-contained unitary whole which functions with the intervention of any outside force. Thus, they preach a neo-mysticism and revive the old idealist view of life, denying objective reality of the physical world. This entails a loss of faith in him. According to Roy, the contentions of sophisticated philosophers against materialism, based on their scientific arguments are in the ultimate analysis rationalised religion. It is a new flare up in the age-old struggle between religion and science. However, science must not be allowed to lose the struggle, if man is to be the maker of his own destiny. The mechanistic cosmology constitutes the foundation of materialism.


A humanistic ethics based upon a naturalist rationalism should have to be built upon the rock bottom of a mechanist cosmology and physical realist ontology. It does not matter much, that some scientists too have been preaching the idealistic implications of modem science. However, like many other scientists and philosophers, Roy holds that the modem discoveries of physics do not warrant any dangerous activism. They have only brought about a revolution in the notion of substance, only perceptually but not in the conceptual sense. That is to say, the conceptual notion of substance remains, but its construction is differently conceived. It can be measured mathematically and hence it must be a physical reality.


Roy feels that ever since the days of Laplace, a whole series of mathematical theories have demonstrated that the evolution of our physical system could have begun from a primordial state of evenly distributed matter. Modern astral physics has developed the nebular hypothesis into a mathematically precise theory. It tells us about the stars and galaxies, their formations out of gaseous nebulae, and asserts that the process is going on even today, in the farthest part of the universe. Roy thinks that the picture presented by the physical science of our day does not contain any indication, that the world ever had a beginning or will ever have an end. The process of physical evolution is not reversible, but it is recurring. The radiation from the sun does not return to the sun, but follows a circuitous route, yet to be discovered by science, it seems to crystalize into a new source of radiation. Particular physical bodies in the cosmic organisation may possibly freeze to death. However, the heat radiated out of them is not lost.


It re-enters into circulation through the formation of gross matter, and eventually new stars. This takes place mechanically, at any point of the infinite process, without the intervention of any extraneous agency. The discoveries of modern science have completed the picture of a self-contained, self-operative, physical universe with all its obvious and admitted deficiencies. As Roy says, there does not remain much difference between scientific theories and poetry or any other art of work, if the world of modern physics exists in the minds of the physicists alone. The discoveries of modem science may at best only require the restatement of the materialistic philosophy as physical realism’. Thus, Materialism does not depend upon the definition of matter in terms of any particular substance, whatever one may call it, simply it states that objective reality and an external world exist antecedent to, and independent of, the human mind.


According to Roy, the principal defect of classical materialism was that its cosmology had nothing to do with ethics. Then, it envisages a gulf between physics and psychology. But, this defect can now be removed by building a bridge over this gulf with the discovery of protoplasm which is a physical substance. The mental phenomena today do not require any extra physical explanation. The supreme importance of man lies in the fact, that in him the physical process of becoming has so far reached the highest pitch. Thus, the monistic philosophy of physical realism makes possible a satisfactory approach any extra-physical categories. Thus for Roy mind and matter are only two aspects of the self made world, which is self sufficient and self-operating. Man is indeed free to thrive in this world. because he is a part of it. That is how the philosophy of Radical Humanism came to be born.


Roy’s New Humanism: Twenty-Two Theses On Radical Democracy


“New Humanism” is the name given by Roy to the “new philosophy of revolution” which he developed in the later part of his life. This 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 individual, 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.


Basic Tenets of New Humanism


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 back the quest for freedom 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 originates from the rational desire for harmonious and mutually beneficial social relations, is rooted in the innate rationality of man.


Humanist Interpretation of History


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 in history, 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.


Inadequacies of Communism


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, 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”.


Shortcomings of Formal Parliamentary Democracy


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.”


Radical Democracy


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. He argued that 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, which will guarantee a progressively rising standard of living, is the foundation of the Radical Democratic State. “Economic liberation of the masses”, says Roy, “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.


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 cannot be a closed system. “It will not be”, says Roy, “a dogmatic system claiming finality and infallibility.”


Philosophical Revolution or Renaissance


It is obvious from the foregoing that Roy was a great supporter of philosophical revolution or renaissance, and he has given a central place to it in his radical humanism. Roy was an admirer of European renaissance and drew inspiration from it. For him, “the renaissance was the revolt of man against God and his agents on this earth. According to Roy, the renaissance “heralded the modern civilization and the philosophy of freedom”. He strongly believed that India, too, needed a renaissance on rationalist and humanist lines. According to him, this was a necessary condition for democracy to function in a proper manner. He believed that “a new Renaissance based on rationalism and cosmopolitan humanism” was essential for democracy to be realized. (Roy has used the word “rationalist” not in the Cartesian sense but in the popular sense. In this sense, a “rationalist” regards reason including both perception and inference as a source of knowledge.)


According to Roy, a philosophical revolution must precede a social revolution. He was opposed to blind faith and superstitions of all kinds and supported rationalism. As a physical realist, he rejected all allegedly supernatural entities like god and soul. Similarly, he was opposed to fatalism and the doctrine of karma. He unequivocally rejected the religious mode of thinking and advocated a scientific outlook and a secular morality. As noted earlier, he was in favor of delinking philosophy with religion and associating it closely with science. He believed that science would ultimately liquidated religion.


According to Roy, a revolutionary is one who has got the idea that the world can be re-made, made better than it is to-day, that it was not created by a supernatural power, and therefore, could be remade by human efforts.


Further, according to Roy, “the idea of improving upon the creation of God can never occur to God-fearing. We can conceive of the idea only when we know that all gods are our own creation, and we can depose whom-so-ever we have enthroned.”


Roy’s critical approach towards religion comes out very clearly in the preface of his book,India’s Message, where he asserts that a criticism of religious thought and a searching analysis of traditional beliefs and the time-honored dogmas of religion is essential for the belated Renaissance of India. “The spirit of inquiry should overwhelm the respect for tradition.”


According to Roy, “a critical examination of what is cherished as India’s cultural heritage will enable the Indian people to cast off the chilly grip of a dead past. It will embolden them to face the ugly realities of a living present and look forward to a better, brighter and pleasant future.” Thus, Roy was opposed to an uncritical and vain glorification of India’s so-called “spiritual” heritage. However, he did not stand for a wholesale rejection of ancient Indian thought either. He favored a rational and critical approach towards ancient traditions and thoughts. Roy believed that the object of European renaissance was to rescue the positive contributions of ancient European civilization, which were lying buried in the Middle Ages owing to the dominance of the Church. Roy had something similar in his mind about India. According to him, one of the tasks of the Renaissance movement should be to rescue the positive outcome and abiding contributions of ancient thought – contributions, which just like the contributions of Greek sages, are lying in ruins under the decayed structure of the Brahmanical Society – the tradition of which is erroneously celebrated as the Indian civilization.


Emphasis on Ethics


Roy has given a very important place to ethics in his philosophy. According to Roy, “the greatest defect of classical materialism was that its cosmology did not seem to have any connection with ethics”. Roy strongly asserts that if it is not shown that materialist philosophy can accommodate ethics, then, human spirit, thirsting for freedom, will spurn materialism. In Roy’ view materialist ethics is not only possible but also the noblest form of morality. Roy links morality with human being’s innate rationality.Human beings are moral, according to Roy, because they are rational. In Roy’s ethics freedom, which he links with the struggle of existence is the highest value. Search for truth is a corollary to the quest for freedom.


However, Roy is not unique among materialists in emphasizing the importance of ethics in his philosophy. Contrary to popular impression, ancient materialist Epicurus and modern materialist Holbach, for example, accorded an important place to ethics in their philosophies. However, the details of Roy’s ethics are somewhat different from these philosophers.




The above discussion on the life and times of MN Roy reveals the fact that Roy started his ideational journey from Marxism. Later dissatisfied with the practice of the Marxian ideology and basically because of its domination by Russian Communist, he left it. On coming back to India, dissatisfied with his association with Indian National Congress, he organized his own political party-Radical democratic party and ultimately founded a new movement called New Humanism. Thus it would be wrong to conclude that the ideational journey was journey from Marxism to New Humanism.


you can view video on M.N. Roy and Radical Humanism



Primary Sources

  • Parikh, G. D. compiler.  Essence of Royism (Bombay: NavJagritiSamaj, 1987). Anthology of  M. N.
  • Roy’s writings by one of his close academician associates.
  • Ray, Sibnarayan. ed., Selected Works of M. N. Roy, vol. I, (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987). Altogether four volumes have been published. The first volume contains an illuminating introduction written by the editor, another close academician associate of Roy.
  • Roy, M. N. and Spratt, Phillip. Beyond Communism (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1981). Shows Roy’s transition from Marxism to Humanism.
  • Roy, M. N. India’s Message (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1982). One of the books made out of the ‘Prison Manuscripts’. Published originally as the second volume of Fragments of a Prisoner’s Diary. First volume was titled Memoirs of a Cat.
  • Roy, M. N. Letters from Jail ( Calcutta: Renaissance Publishers Private Ltd., 1965). Third volume of Fragments of a Prisoner’s Diary. Letters written to his future wife and a close associate, Ellen Roy.
  • Roy,      M. N. Materialism (Calcutta: Renaissance Publishers Ltd., 1951). From the ‘Prison Manuscripts’.
  • Roy, M. N. M. N. Roy’s Memoirs (New Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1983). Covers a short period of six years from 1915.
  • Roy, M. N. New Humanism – A Manifesto (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1981). Roy’s final ideas on humanism
  • Roy, M. N. New Orientation (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1982). Transition from Marxism to Humanism.
  • Roy, M. N. Politics, Power and Parties (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1981). Roy’s views on party-politics.
  • Roy, M. N. Reason, Romanticism and Revolution (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1989). Last major work.
  • Roy,      M. N. Science and Philosophy (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1984). From the ‘Prison Manuscripts’.
  • Roy, M. N. Scientific Politics (Calcutta: Renaissance Publishers, 1947). Transition from Marxism to Humanism


Secondary Sources

  • Karnik, V. B. M. N. Roy (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1980).
  • A biography of Roy by one of his close associates.
  • Pal, R. M. ed., Selections from the Marxian Way and the Humanist Way (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 2000). Selections from the journal The Marxian Way and The Humanist Way (changed name), edited by Roy.
  • Ramendra. M. N. Roy’s New Humanism and Materialism (Patna: Buddhiwadi Foundation, 2001).
  • A critical study of Roy’s new humanism and materialism.
  • Ray, Sibnarayan, ed. M.N. Roy Philosopher-Revolutionary (New Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1995).
  • Contains some writings of M. N. Roy, but also writings of many others on Roy, including that of V. B. Karnik, SuddhindranathDatta, Ellen Roy, LaxmanShastri Joshi, Phillip Spratt, G. D. Parikh, Stanley Maron and H. J. Blackham.
  • Tarkunde, V. M. Radical Humanism (New Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1983). An exposition of radical humanism by an intellectual-activist and a close associate of Roy.