M N Roy

Indian humanist, nationalist and revolutionary

Born into a Bengali priestly family, Roy was attracted to the Indian nationalist cause as a boy (India was then a British colony). He travelled widely, seeking arms and help for the liberation of India, encountering Marxism in Mexico where he helped to found the Mexican Communist Party. Often a fugitive, M N Roy was one of the many pseudonyms he adopted to avoid arrest. As an exile, he helped to found the Indian Communist party, but fell out with Stalin, the Russian Communist dictator.

On his return to India in 1930, he was imprisoned for six years by the British,   time which he used for reflection and writing. He turned away from the economic determinism of Marxism, and sought instead a philosophical and cultural revolution, a “twentieth century Renaissance”. He supported Britain in the 1939-45 war, seeing Fascism as a worse threat to freedom and democracy than British colonialism. Although initially a supporter of the Indian National Congress, he left it over its attitude to the war. He rejected political parties and proposed a network of people’s committees as the way to democracy, publishing his radical ideas in a manifesto on the “New Humanism”, which proposed a scientific, materialist, humanist philosophy. He traced morality to its biological roots and suggested that human progress depended on progress towards liberty and truth. In 1948 he launched the Radical Humanist Movement in India, which in 1952 joined with other humanist groups in Europe and America to found the International Humanist and Ethical Union (now Humanists International). Roy was one of the first Vice-presidents. The humanist centre in Bombay is called the M N Roy Memorial Human Development Campus.

Roy’s life and political activism were based on his humanist values. His life-long passion, and a constant element in his long and varied career, was the desire for liberty.