MN Roy

On Patriotism

Date: June 12, 1923
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 Friend

In speaking of the political side of our movement, I must first of all mention the present deplorable state of depression, which is shared also by you. It is indeed very encouraging to hear that even a partial knowledge of the work begun by us, that is the Communist Party, has made you think that perhaps after all, it is not necessary for every honest revolutionary to put an end to his life. I prefer the word “revolutionary” to that of “patriot”, because although in a given historical epoch patriots possess a revolutionary significance, this does not hold true of them at all times and under every circumstance. For example: Mussolini, Poincaré, the American Ku Klux Klan, the Manchurian bandit Chang Tsu Lin, Amir Amanulla of Afghanisthan, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, Srinivasa Sastri, Sir Surendra Nath Bannerji, Gandhi, Barin Ghose and yourself are all patriots; but imagine what a gulf divides these men one from the other, and what divergent ideals each of them represents! “Patriotism”, therefore, is a very misleading term, which often possesses a very sinister significance. A movement which is based only on patriotism cannot go very far in these days. Pure Indian patriotism smacks of reaction, and produces Gandhis and Arabindas, about whom you have no more illusions.

I daresay you yourself do not know quite clearly why you have lost these illusions You are a patriot, - as good a one as any among these super-patriots. You are very sincere in your patriotism, but so too are they. So there must be something wrong in the very conception of patriotism, which can lead men to pursue such contrary and often contradictory goals. Actuated by the same spirit of patriotism, one man reads the Gita, one sends missionaries to America to preach the gospel of Sri Ramkrishna, one orders the whole nation to spin, one cooperates in the working of the Montagu Reforms, another throws bombs, and there are even some who drink three bottles of whiskey a day. There is absolutely no reason to doubt that all of them are equally patriotic. Every one of them loves the Motherland, serves her, worships her, glorifies her, idealizes her, - almost every one of these Indians believes implicitly in the providential mission of India to spiritualize the world. Yet in spite of all this, these patriots and the philosophy they preach do not satisfy you any longer, although there was a time when you accepted their teachings as infallible. This shows that there is some fundamental difference between your patriotism and that of the leaders in whom you have lost faith. In a subsequent letter, I will deal with this philosophical aspect in more detail.

First of all, let me assure you that there is absolutely no reason to lose heart. In every great revolutionary movement, a period of depression is to be found. It is generally the turning-point. The time has come when we Indians must forget a lot of our cherished ideals, which have proved false and reactionary. We have to enter into a new stage of our struggle, with a new vision and a new determination. Those social elements, whom I prefer to call revolutionaries, instead of using the more ambiguous term patriots, instinctively feel the need for this new orientation. They are utterly dissatisfied with the old and worn-out theories handed out by leaders who have proved themselves to be false prophets in the actual struggle. To gather these revolutionary elements together into a new political party is our immediate object. This is the only way out of the present terrible state of depression that reigns in our movement today. So far, the reasons for the organization of such a revolutionary party have been put forward through the medium of our organ and other publications. As you are already aware, after reading these, this new party is to be a party of the masses, - of the workers and peasants, organized on the basis of their class interests. The labouring masses alone can conquer freedom for our country. But if they are to be led into the fight, it should be for their own welfare, and not for that of the upper classes.

We do not seek to propagate this idea as an ethical or humanitarian proposition. The whole question is one of social economics. The collapse of the Non-Cooperation Movement has demonstrated that the enthusiasm of the masses, once aroused, cannot be maintained for any length of time by mere sentimental effusions. This collapse has also exposed the shallowness of middle-class patriotism. Therefore, in the phase that is to come, the movement should be based upon more solid ground. It should be built upon the foundation of material interests, - the material interests of the majority of our people, or in other words, of the working class.

Here you see the fundamental difference between spiritual patriotism and revolutionary patriotism. The former says that if the masses will not be spiritualized, let them go to the devil, and we will console ourselves with bottles of whiskey or the Upanishads; but the latter says that Nationalism is no moonshine. It is a material question. We want freedom, not to save the world, but to save ourselves. The struggle between India and Britain is not a cultural one, as Imperialism likes to preach through such lips as Lord Ronaldshay’s. It is a struggle for existence. Therefore, it is of greater and more vital interest to the labouring masses than to the upper classes. The masses hear the full brunt of imperialist exploitation. They are hungry; they suffer from epidemics; they and their children are born, live and die in the rankest poverty, ignorance and disease. But our upper classes live in comfort, even opulence, in spite of British rule. Thus, so long as the masses of our people are not rallied, the national struggle cannot be successful.

But the masses cannot be rallied and made to take an active and conscious part in the struggle, unless they see that the object is not to revive the Brahmanical Age of priestly exploitation, nor to aggrandize the merchant princes of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay, - but to promote the welfare of the vast producing class; to give land to the peasants and bread to the workers of India. The philosophy that dominated Indian nationalism until today, was oblivious to this fundamental problem. Hence its collapse. And this collapse gives rise to pessimism and a corresponding sense of depression on the part of those who were the votaries of this philosophy heretefore. But a revolutionary has nothing to fear. He need not, be disheartened; on the contrary, there is ground for hope, because those leaders whom he has followed until now with such blind allegiance, thinking they could do everything, today throw off their masks and declare that they will not do anything revolutionary. The debacle of such leaders really strengthens our movement, because it helps the revolutionary elements to come forward and assert themselves upon the situation.

Spiritual patriotism tried to measure itself against a revolutionary situation, and failed miserably. Our spiritual patriots wisely tell us that the world is not yet ready for their lofty teachings, and some of their followers find consolation in this idea. But there are others who cannot reconcile themselves with such sublime impotence; their revolutionary nature seeks ever new paths of activity, and as soon as the right one is indicated, they will shake off their temporary depression. It is from such elements, together with the vast discontented masses of the Indian working-class, that the material for the revolutionary of the future will be brought together and welded into one compact and homogeneous whole, - into a political party of the masses which will hold aloft the banner of material betterment at one and the same time and as an indispensable condition in the battle for political Swaraj.

Yours for a decent and speedy burial for our spiritual Swarajists.

June 12, 1923.


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