The October Revolution in Russia also ignited the spark of left wing ideology in India and other parts of the world. By the second decade of the 20th century, the political thinking in India swung between Gandhian ideology and radical Communism, so much so that Bengali militant nationalist Manabendra Nath Roy became one of the founders of global Communism.
Having begun his political career at an early age, Roy, or Narendra Nath Bhattacharya as he was originally named, first emerged as a powerful radical voice against the 1905 Partition of Bengal. By 1915, as the First World War raged in Europe, he and several others were convinced that the only way of fighting the British in India was with German help. Roy, who left India during this period to raise funds, soon found himself intimately involved in the growing Communist struggle across the world.
M N Roy in Mexico
When Roy set out from India in 1915, Mexico was nowhere on his itinerary. His destination was the Indonesian island of Java. This trip turned out to be the prelude to many others, which took him to China, Japan as well as both coasts of the United States by late 1916. In April 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany, Indians implicated in the Indo-German conspiracy were under the spotlight along with their German backers. Roy, like many other Indian revolutionaries, escaped America and moved south to Mexico.
“Neighbouring Mexico, in a state of permanent revolution, appeared to be the land of promise. If I could not proceed further I would settle down there and at least take part in a revolution,” wrote Roy in his memoir. He added that “India was no longer my sole preoccupation. I was just learning to think of revolution as an international social necessity.”
However, once in Mexico, Roy continued to organise revolutionary activities for India with the help of German diplomats. He even published a book targeting Mexican readership criticising British rule in India.
“As the success of the conspiratorial alliance with Germany appeared ever less likely, Roy began socialising with a group of North American Leftists who had come to Mexico to dodge obligatory military service in the United States,” writes German historian Michael Goebel in his 2014 research paper, ‘Geopolitics, transnational solidarity or diaspora nationalism? The global career of M.N. Roy, 1915–1930’.
Under the influence of the Bolshevik revolution that had broken out in 1917, Roy along with the American Leftists and Mexican unionists and anarchists founded the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) in November 1917. The Communist International agent Mikhail Borodin played an instrumental role in the formation of the party and it was through his support that Roy was elected its first general-secretary.
“Ever since we met under curious circumstances, until I left Russia in 1929, Borodin was one of my closest friends, although politically we often disagreed very strongly,” wrote Roy, adding that his “lingering faith in the special genius of India faded as I learned from him the history of European culture”.
The PCM was one of the first legitimate Communist parties to be established outside Russia and played an important role in organising the workers’ movement in Mexico. With the founding of the PCM, Roy’s name came to be associated with the expansion of Communism globally. He and his party were invited by head of the Soviet Union Vladimir Lenin to be part of the Communist International’s Congress. Roy helped Lenin develop the Communist International’s — also known as Third International — policies towards the colonies.
“Roy’s conversion from an Indian nationalist financed by the Germans to an international revolutionary thus occured in Mexico,” writes Goebel. However, he goes on to note that even when he was working towards the creation and development of a Communist party in Mexico, Roy continued to be focused on the anti-colonial struggle in India.
After leaving for Moscow in 1920, he never returned to Mexico. “During the two years of his stay, India continued to be Roy’s main concern, as his political associates of that time would later remember,” writes Goebel, pointing out that “both the only book that he wrote in Mexico, (Some opinions about the British administration in India) and the one that he published two years after his departure from Mexico, (India in Transition) focused on India and had virtually nothing to say about either Mexico or Latin America”.
However, he is still commemorated in Mexico. The house where he lived during the two years spent there is today a night club named after him. Roy passed away in Dehradun in January 1954.