Reviewed by Andy Brooks
Leon Trotsky As I knew him: M N Roy, 32 pp, Second Wave Publications, London 2011
DO NOT be misled by the title or the flattering portrait on the cover into thinking that this is yet another paean of praise for Leon Trotsky. Don’t dismiss it out of hand because it was written by another one-time revolutionary who fell by the wayside. This paper is, in fact, a biting critique from someone who had been in Trotsky’s camp but ended up voting with all the others in 1927 to expel him from the Communist International.
Manabendra Nath Roy was the movement name of Narendra Nath Bhattacharya, a militant Indian nationalist who embraced Marxism and helped found the communist parties of India and Mexico and later sat on the presidium of the Comintern from 1921 until he too was expelled in 1929 for supporting the Right Opposition of Bukharin and the German communist Heinrich Brandler. M N Roy then tried to form a radical wing within the Indian Congress Party and when that failed he openly renounced Marxism in favour of what he called “radical humanism” to lead an Indian humanist society, until his death in 1954.
These days M N Roy is barely known amongst the British left and he’s been largely forgotten by the Indian communist movement he spurned so long ago. But in the 1920s M N Roy played a prominent role in the international communist movement, working in Moscow and Berlin for the Communist International, where he came to personally know most of its leading members including Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
This is what makes this pen sketch of Trotsky so interesting. It’s from someone who knew him and someone Trotsky considered an ally of sorts, right up to the final denunciation from the Comintern in 1927.
The discussion had gone on throughout the night. Speaker after speaker had got up to denounce Trotsky but M N Roy was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt until:
“Having agreed that it is not possible to build Socialism in the Soviet Union in the midst of a capitalist world there are two alternatives – either we should continue doing whatever is possible by way of advancing towards the ultimate goal of Socialism, pending the success of revolution in other countries; or we should lay down power in the Soviet Union and go back to emigration to wait for the time when there will be a revolution simultaneously throughout the world. I asked whether Trotsky would choose the latter alternative.
He shouted “No”. Then I would vote for his expulsion, because he had been advocating a policy without understanding its implications or without meaning to put it into practice if he had the opportunity to do so.
Trotsky looked crestfallen. All through the night, he had heckled the speakers with challenging questions. He kept quiet while I spoke and hung his head in answer to my question. The historic vote was cast against him – unanimously. The Revolution went over the head of one of its most brilliant products”.
To find out more read the rest of the article, which written immediately after Trotsky’s assassination in 1940 and later included in Men I Met, a collection of a number of M N Roy’s biographical sketches originally published in Indian magazines.
Leon Trotsky As I Knew Him is available at £2.00 plus 60p postage from: Second Wave Publications & Distribution, BM Box 2978, London WC1N 3XX.