MN Roy

MN Roy: Communist Who Became A Scientific Humanist

May 20, 2022

Manabendra Nath Roy aka MN Roy was a great Indian philosopher and revolutionary of the early twentieth century.

His original name was Narendra Nath Bhattacharya. He took the name Manabendra Nath in 1916 during his sojourn in San Francisco, where he also developed a friendship with several American radicals.

He met Lenin in Moscow in 1920 and eventually became a communist leader of international ranking.

However, in 1929, Communist International expelled him and returned to India, where he was sentenced to six years in prison in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case.

During his years in prison, MN Roy undertook a re-examination and reformulation of Marxism. He came to identify a very close relationship between philosophy and science.

He maintained that a philosophical revolution must precede a social revolution and his most important contribution lies in scientific humanism.

Why Not Marxism?

Roy’s commitment to scientific humanism not only led to his departure from Marxism but also to an attack on Marxism.

According to Marxism, in the economic structure of the society, the mode of production comprises the base or foundation of the social structure while legal and political institutions, religion, morals and other forms of social consciousness make up its superstructure. Marxist believe that any change in the base results in corresponding changes in the superstructure.

MN Roy asserted that the theory of economic determinism blasts the foundation of human freedom. In this theory, the mode of production included forces of production and relations of production. Forces of production included means of production and labour-power.

Roy pointed out that the means of production were themselves a creation of the human mind. How could they determine the forms of human consciousness? In Roy’s view, the will of the human mind created a revolution, and not only by changes in the means of production. Marxism regards socialism as the ideology of the proletariat or the class of manual workers.

MN Roy did not accept this position as he held that the intellectual and cultural backwardness of the proletariat did not permit them to have a long-distance view. He also said that the dictatorship created a system of political domination, cultural regimentation and economic enslavement.

Any form of dictatorship perpetuates itself, so the proletariat was not desirable. Marxism also states that the state will wither away after the emergence of a classless society, but Roy thought the State represents the political organisation of society and cannot cease to exist after the abolition of class distinctions.

Understanding Scientific Humanism

It refers to the belief that science can and should be used to enhance human wellbeing and dignity. That science would produce useful knowledge for the betterment of humanity was as old as science itself. Yet the close connection between science and human progress was fully established during the period of enlightenment. It does not agree with any form of extremism, whether Communist or capitalist, but stands on a middle ground.

In a capitalist society, there was the unrestricted operation of the free market and the concentration of wealth in fewer hands. In such a situation, the reason was all-important, with no space for feelings, emotions or compassion for the poor who were the victims of this system.

The “philosophers of habit” who were unaware of the new science of psychology and held positions of authority in a society like mothers, fathers, teachers, military generals, captains of industry and so on promoted anti-intellectualism. They unwittingly exploited the ignorance and fear of the masses by perpetuating and reinforcing habitual modes of thinking that denigrated human dignity.

The keynote of Roy’s radical scientific humanism is human freedom, which implied the realisation of his creative faculties. He observed that scientific knowledge liberates man from the time-honoured prejudices about the essence of his being and the purpose of his life. Scientific humanism, according to Roy, proclaims the sovereignty of man on the authority of modern science, which has dispelled all mystery about the essence of man. Education is indispensable to achieving the goal of a new humanism, as it makes the individual conscious of his potential and helps him to think rationally.

The brain, as an instrument of thought, is owned individually and cannot be possessed collectively. So iconoclastic ideas conceived by gifted individuals herald revolutions. Roy’s ideas throw light on how we can tackle the path ahead of us with logic and cool, instead of communal fervour.

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