MN Roy

Introduction to Political Letters

Date: March 1924
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.


The adjoined letters were written on various occasions during the last year and a half. Practically all the burning questions of the day are discussed in them. Some of them have already been published on separate occasions. But all of them taken together make a complete whole, which is of use for an understanding of the ideological aspect of the Indian Nationalist Movement. Although originally the letters were written to individuals, by way of polemics on different social, economic or political topics, they are by no means private correspondence. The individuals to whom they were addressed, are active in one sphere or another of the great movement which is shaking the very foundation of our country. The object of these letters was in some cases to point out the mistakes of the persons to whom they were addressed, in others to criticise some particular school of socio-political thought, in others again to indicate the broad outlines of our programme and tactics. Therefore, it is clear that the contents of the letters were meant to be communicated to more than those to whom they were written. Thanks to the censorship in general, and in some cases owing to the reluctance of the recipients, the letters failed to reach as wide a circle of readers as they were meant for. It is believed that their publication in collectivity will serve a useful purpose.

These letters will once more prove the potency of a certain method of reading history: to learn from the past, to judge the present and to foresee the future. It will be seen that the criticism made in them has been generally borne out by subsequent developments. It will also be seen that the forecasts made were made with a correct perspective on the situation. It will further be noticed that nothing has happened to challenge successfully the allegations made against the political leadership and social tendencies of the Nationalist Movement.

Written in a rather light conversational style, the letters nevertheless, deal with profound questions of a social, political and economic nature. This method of exposing our views will prove that Historic Materialism, Marxism and Socialism are not such theoretical monstrosities as they are deemed by many of our intellectual wiseacres who do not hesitate to pass opinions on subjects without knowing anything about them. Practically all of the letters were addressed to those Nationalists who never had much in common with the leadership of the Congress or the neo-constitutionalist Swaraj Party. These elements, who are objectively bound to tread a revolutionary path, if they seriously mean to work out their salvation, are however, caught in such a labyrinth of intellectual confusion that it is almost impossible for them to cut a way out for themselves. The cause of this lamentable intellectual confusion is the reprehensible social prejudice in which they are steeped. This prejudice and the resulting confusion, taken together, prevent a clear understanding of the economic situation which determines, in the last analysis, all political tendencies. Freed from this bondage, these elements hailing from a semi-proletarianized lower middle. class, can play an important role in the struggle for national liberation. But this much needed freedom depends upon a correct perspective of history. This involves the question of a revolutionary social philosophy. In these letters, attempts have been made to expound the first principles of this philosophy in a language which cannot be suspected of theoretical pedantry.

Curiously enough, the lower middle class intellectuals, who cling to their social prejudice by virtue of a supposed intellectual superiority, sneer at theories when these happen to be advanced by others, and particularly by those not accepting the current theory of Indian Nationalism. In such case these lower middle class intellectuals become advocates of “action”, by which term however, they themselves do not know what is meant. They exclaim: “we do not want theory, we want action”! What is implied by this is that they do not care for any new theory. They are satisfied with their own which they do not even want or do not dare to analyse in the light of science and reason. This pathetic faithfulness to the inherited orthodox social theory leads inevitably to intellectual confusion, and the very notion of intellectual superiority of which they are so proud, precludes all possibility of any action in the broad sense of the word. Hence, it is remarkable that no new contribution to, the political thought of our country has ever been made by the lower middle class, notwithstanding the fact that an overwhelming majority of the martyrs to the cause have risen out of its ranks.

This proves that material reasons have generated a store of revolutionary energy in the organism of this class. This energy, however, cannot assert itself profitably, simply because no suitable expression has been so far found for it. It is only the philosophy of Historic Materialism and the programme of Marxism, Socialism, that can show the way out. But the reactionary tendencies are so strong in the ranks of the lower middle class that to them the very names of Materialism and Marxism are abhorrent. To run away from this only light that can illuminate before them the road to salvation, they seek refuge in the ridiculous theory of Spiritual Imperialism: that Indian society is essentially spiritual, that Indian culture does not admit of sordid materialism, and that the spiritual mission of India will ultimately save humanity. To demolish these ridiculous theories is a task which is indispensably necessary for the progress of the Indian people, and even for the development of the present political struggle. On such a hollow foundation, no solid edifice of a political movement can be built. But immediately a way has to be found for mobilizing the revolutionary energy of the youthful members of the lower middle class, to be devoted to some more fruitful purpose than the vegetating campaign of Charka and Khaddar on the one hand, and the futile cult of bomb and revolver on the other. This can be done only by turning their idealistic vision away from sentimental abstractions to the rude realities of life. Instead of frightening them away in the beginning with the names of Socialism and Materialism, it was sought to prove to them that the ideals they cherish cannot be realized by the methods they follow. In doing so, the light of Historic Materialism and the programme of Socialism were presented to them in a form not altogether unfamiliar to them. This could not be done indeed without adopting a line of criticism and without telling somewhat brutally unpalatable truths, things not very familiar in Indian political language.

A few letters casually scribbled cannot have the pretension of covering the vast theoretical field they touch upon. They were meant to be an intellectual stimulus: to awaken in the readers, if not the desire to make further study of the method outlined therein, at least the intellectual activity required to defend one’s theory in the face of rational criticism. Unquestionable acceptance of doctrines and dogmas leads to intellectual stagnation, which is much worse than want of intelligence. Total lack of intelligence admits of the growth of it eventually when a favourable situation is created; but stagnation is a pitiable state. One sleeps with the smug conviction of possessing something which one does not possess in reality. The disturbance of this passive stage is a prerequisite for further growth. The stagnation. sometimes becomes so confirmed that rather rude shocks are needed. Since the contents of the following letters are considered to have the merit of such a disturbing nature, it is thought desirable to publish them together.

Zurich, March 1924.


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