Childhood & Early Life
M.N. Roy was born Narendra Nath Bhattacharya, on March 22, 1887, in Arbelia, Bengal Presidency, modern-day West Bengal. Roy hailed from a family of Brahmins. Both his father and grandfather were priests in Ksheput, Midnapore. However, his father later moved to Arbelia, to find some other work and eventually began working as a Sanskrit teacher in a local school in Arbelia.
Roy initially studied at the school where his father taught. In 1898, the family moved to Kodalia, where his father began teaching Sanskrit in a school named the ‘Harinavi-Anglo Sanskrit School.’ Roy resumed his education at the same school.
Roy completed his high-school education in 1905. He grew into a 6-foot tall, strong young man with a deep voice and an intimidating physique. He was a natural leader since his childhood years.
He later joined the ‘National College’ and studied under revolutionary Sri Aurobindo Ghose. After completing his studies there, Roy moved to the ‘Bengal Technical Institute,’ currently known as ‘Jadavpur University,’ in Kolkata. He ended up graduating in chemistry and engineering from the institute.
However, by then, he had lost interest in the subjects he studied in college and had started reading about politics and philosophy instead. He had also come to despise the occupation of India by the British. He ardently studied the works of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Vivekananda. Heavily influenced by their ideas, he had already become involved in India’s freedom struggle at the turn of the century.
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Toward the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a strong wave of nationalism spread across the country through the writings of revolutionaries such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Swami Ramthirtha. Bengal was one of the most educated parts of India at that time, and the youth of Bengal became highly inspired to join the freedom movement.
Roy had the same ideas. He gathered some of his friends and cousins and formed a secret group of revolutionaries. The partition of Bengal in 1905 was yet another act committed by the British officials that was met with a lot of flak. Roy made use of this opportunity and began spreading his ideas with much more vigor.
In 1907, Roy and a few other revolutionaries planned a loot in order to gather money for their cause. In 1910, he was arrested over his association in the Howrah-Shibpur conspiracy. By then, he knew that he needed to do something significant if he wanted his struggle against the British to be a success.
In 1915, the First World War was in full swing, with Germany and Britain fighting against each other. Roy thought that Germany would prove to be a good ally in his war against the British. Hence, he made a fake passport and left India for Germany in 1915.
He was sent to collect arms, ammunition, and funds, to raise a powerful mutiny against the British. He was promised help, but eventually nothing was delivered. Over the next few months, Roy traveled to many countries, such as Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines, but failed. Finally, after many efforts, he landed in San Francisco in 1916.
In order to avoid getting caught, he changed his name to “Manabendra Nath Roy.” He later moved to New York City. His thirst for reading had him visiting the ‘New York Public Library’ very often. He was also meeting many American radicals at the same time, building friendships with them in order to attain some help for his causes back in India.
Soon, he began studying about socialism, a political ideology that he had hated earlier. However, as he read about it in detail, he realized that he himself was a socialist. He was one of the people behind the formation of the ‘Mexican Communist Party’ in 1917. However, he got his biggest breakthrough when he visited Mexico in 1920, to attend the second meeting of ‘Communist International,’ also known as ‘Comintern.’
Vladimir Lenin was heading the meeting, and he circulated a thesis among all the delegates, for them to study it and find points of criticism. Roy offered his criticism, and it moved Lenin. Lenin thus asked Roy to write another draft for him. With this, Roy became one of the superiors in the ‘Communist International.’
He liked the ideas propagated by communism, and he became sure that communism could be a decisive force in the smooth running of a diverse country such as India. He remained in touch with the Indian revolutionaries and shared his ideas about the powers of communism and how could it be used in the Indian context.
In 1925, he laid the foundation of the ‘Communist Party of India’ and wrote many journals while promoting it. He argued that communism was concerned about the low-level workers and would benefit the masses. This inspired the working-class people and peasants, who organized many movements across the country.
In 1927, he visited China as a delegate of ‘Communist International.’ However, the visit was a diplomatic failure, and he was thus expelled from the group.
He moved back to India in 1930, and in July 1931, he got arrested by the British authorities. He remained in prison for nearly 6 years, but he kept reading and writing while in prison. His involvement in the freedom movement remained steady. He composed a book titled ‘The Philosophical Consequences of Modern Science.’ In his book, he made a clear distinction between religion and philosophy and urged people to let go of orthodox religious ideas for a better future.
He was released from prison in 1936 and was in bad health back then. He asked the communists to work in alliance with the ‘Indian National Congress’ and went on to build good relations with Jawaharlal Nehru.
Roy had also proposed the idea of forming a ‘Constituent Assembly,’ which created the constitution of India after independence. His ideas of radical democracy were not accepted by the ‘Congress,’ and he left the party in 1940, to formed his own ‘Radical Democratic Party.’ He spent the last years of his life delivering speeches in universities and writing books.
Family, Personal Life & Death
M.N. Roy married an American woman named Evelyn Leonora Trent in 1917, while he was living in the U.S.A.
In 1937, he married a German woman named Ellen Gottschalk, with whom he fell in love during his imprisonment.
Roy passed away after a massive heart attack on January 25, 1954. He was 66 years old at the time of his death.