MN Roy

On Intellectuals

Date: November 10, 1922
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 …

It is needless to say how glad I was to receive your letter. That you found my letters at least “interesting” is encouraging. It is but natural that the years which have passed since we were together, would create some difference in our outlook on life. Therefore, the first thing necessary is for us to compare notes.

I must tell you at the very beginning that my letters and writings may have been read by you “with as much interest as possible”, but they have not been properly understood. It would be presumptuous to claim that my knowledge of India is perfect, but let me tell you that I have learned much more about our country, people and society in the last several years of my wanderings, than I ever did in those early days of romantic patriotism. It is indeed difficult to form a correct estimate of the present situation without intimate knowledge of the details, but it is also true that too much local colour often limits our vision and understanding. It is evident that you read my writings with a preconceived notion about my present convictions; otherwise, how was it possible for you to come to the conclusion that I “want to finish in one step” what you want to do in two? Then, what I stand for is not, as you sarcastically call it, “the beautiful argument: Down with the bourgeoisie!” Exactly on the contrary! The political philosophy advocated by us for the truly revolutionary element of our country today, teaches us to demand a bourgeois democratic republic. But this blessed bourgeoisie of yours, on whom you appear to believe the salvation of our country depends, is too afraid, too hesitating, to follow a revolutionary channel. Therefore, it is necessary to invoke, — to call into action, — other forces which will push these middle-class heroes onward in the fight, and make it impossible for them to shirk revolutionary responsibilities, as they did at Bardoli and innumerable times before and after. I fail to understand why you should consider this tactics as directed towards manufacturing a Communist Paradise overnight, in that medieval land of ours.

Let me tell you that you cannot put more stress than I do on the first necessity of our country’s political independence. I suppose this is news to you, because somehow or other, you have got the notion that I have extricated myself from one romanticism only to plunge headlong into another. Only a hopeless romanticist could preach a Communist Revolution for a country in which 80 per cent of the population is engaged in primitive agriculture. No my friend, you may think that 1 cannot appreciate your difficulties in patching up the differences between the Hindus and Mussulmans, — (of the “thinking portion of our people”), — but do not imagine that I have followed blindly in the foot-prints of our venerable Indian revolutionaries outside India, who maintain a sublime ignorance of the fundamental principles of revolution while living in the midst of a world thrown into a revolutionary maelstrom.

It seems that you have a special dislike to my habit of sending literature, nor do you approve of my “flooding the country with a new ideal”. Well, I suppose you have your reasons for this. We are agreed that the salvation of our country will be achieved by the people of the country, but don’t you think that in this mission, we may stand in need of some intellectual stimulus from outside? I may not know what particular groups of the “thinking portion of our people” are up to, but occasionally I have a chance of glimpsing the average intellectual level and psychological intricacies of this class. There are a lot of students coming from all parts of India to study in the various European countries. Many of them have taken an active part in the Non-cooperation Movement, and have distinguished themselves for patriotism, devotion and self-sacrifice; but I do not hesitate to say that if I had to depend on these youthful representatives of your “thinking portion” of our population for any reliable information about present conditions in India, my ignorance of the matter would be even greater than you deem it to be. I have never seen such intellectual bankruptcy and political confusion as is manifested by them. Some time ago I attended a meeting of the students’ club here. A newly-arrived young man, said to have been very actively connected with the Non-cooperation Movement, was asked to speak on “The Present Situation in India”. It was quite natural for me to expect to learn something from him about those “perspectives” which you say I stand in need of. Well, after listening to a long rambling discourse of an hour or more, from which one could not pick out even such generalities as are easily available from newspapers, my unconscious impression was expressed by another student from England, who demanded when the speaker sat down: “What is the situation in India” The debate that followed was even worse for its shallowness, if anything could be worse than the principal speech.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, there happened to be present in the meeting one of the much-maligned Moderates, Sir…, who spoke something which was worth while listening to, even if one could not in the least agree with him. There was a man with a clear idea of what he wanted. But this much cannot be said of most of our middle-class semi-intellectuals making such a mess of our movement, and who according to you, are God’s Chosen People in our otherwise accursed land. And I must tell you that it was not only the youthful students against whose mediocrity and muddle-headedness the clear-sightedness of the representative of our upper bourgeoisie shone so brightly; the ranks of the students were reinforced by several nationalist celebrities and intellectual beacon-lights who have been trying to create public opinion abroad in favour of India for the past decade or so.

The moral of this tale is that one should not be so touchy on the subject of learning from others. How can I maintain organic connection with home unless those at home are given to understand my point of view on the outstanding questions of the day? And these heaps of unwelcome literature are the only means by which a really organic connection can be maintained. But if you think that the simple fact of my being abroad deprives me of the status of working for and being of the people, by whom you say, propaganda should be made, then I must tell you that you are mistaken. Do you think it reasonable to try to deprive me of the right to bring within the reach of those working inside the country the education and experience that I have received outside? That wouldn’t be fair, would it?

November 10, 1922.


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