Looking back

Memories of Ajit Roy

There are many many peo- ple who will remember Ajit Roy for his deep friendship and warm heartedness. Ajit Roy earned a great respect and appreciation from the progressives across the country. He lived a very simple life. In spite of moving all over the world and being recognized as a great marxist intellectual who inspired scores of people, big and small, he lived a very simple of life with bare necessities. In his very simple life style there was a great luxury of books and magazines in his house. His store of books was slowly edging the members of the family to a cramp accommodation. When he moved to the simple flat at the Salt Lake City his books had to be given one of the only two bed rooms there were in the flat.

1976. Emergency was in force in India. This was a very critical phase in Indian politics and for the left in particular. All were very eager to listen to his analysis of the situatation of emergency. While many felt Indira Gandhi had turned fascist, he tried to warn people of a wrong characterization of emergency as a fascist phase. His view was if one equates Indira Gandhi's emergency with emergence of fascism then one may mistake the fascist forces to be democratic and get misled into supporting the real fascist forces. He drew a clear distinction between authoritarian rule and a fascist rule. While he tried to show the pitfalls of the Indian economic and political situation he always showed the brighter signs of emergence of people's movements in different social sectors. He was confident that people's power would defeat the emergency of Indira Gandhi.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union Ajit Roy was invited by few people for a workshop in Penukonda, Andhra Pradesh. There were other Marxists who participated in the workshop. Many of the Marxists believed that it was the end of the dream for socialism. They felt that Socialism is a Utopia and capitalism is here to stay. They held that people should make best of capitalism to improve the lives of the poor within this system. Ajit Roy relying on the methodology of dialectics tried to convince people that "the history does not end with capitalism and the socialist path is not identical with the path that the Soviet Union had followed". It was a historical necessity for the Soviet era to end so that a search for new path for socialism would begin.

Ajit Roy joined the Communist Party in 1940 and became its full-fledged member in 1941. He was Vice-President of the Provincial Students' Federation during 1945. He became a party journalist in 1946, first as a reporter and then as a member of the editorial board of the party's Bengali organ, Swadhinata. In 1946, under the direction of the late P C Joshi, the then General Secretary of CPI, along with another party worker, he was sent to Pune to meet Gandhiji and take his interview.

In 1949 he was expelled from the party as he opposed the Left sectarian line adopted by the party under the leadership of B T Ranadive. He was readmitted to the party after a couple of years as the political line of the party changed under a new leadership. Ajit Roy was elected as a member of the Calcutta District Committee of the CPI in 1955.

In November 1962 there were sharp differences within the Communist Party. In July 1964 the break away faction of the Party formed themselves into a new Party, The Communist Party of India (Marxist) in a meeting in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh. Ajit Roy was the saddest person when the Communist Party of India was split. He did not believe in two communist parties working for socialism. He strongly argued within the CPI against the split and emphasised the need to remain united. He believed in the inner party democracy and open discussion within the party. He held that all differences among the members could be addressed. He even went to the extent to assert that the health of the party would be proved by living with differences of opinion within its members. Though occupying a good position in the party he chose to remain outside the communist party rather than join any faction of the party and become party to the split in the party.

Immediately after the split in the party with a small group of party workers started a monthly review under the name "The Marxist Review" and argued his position against the split. The Marxist Review was an independent political venture—that continued till 2004.

Ajit Roy used his independent position to interact with all Marxists within the party and outside the party. He had great hopes from the left oriented action groups in India and constantly interacted with them. He worked incessantly for a non sectarian politics.

In the fifties he was also associated with the Indian Statistical Institute. In the early eighties, Ajit Roy joined the Rome-based Permanent People's Tribunal, a successor to Bertrand Russel Tribunal, as a jury. He also came in touch with the Communist Parties of Italy, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

Ajit Roy considered himself a true Leninist but he did not consider Leninism as a dogma. Lenin evolved politics from the specific economic and political situation in Russia. He believed that the Marxists needed to have flexibility to evolve politics from the situation in India in the context of International politics. He understood that Lenin had an advantage of success of Russian revolution through which the Bolsheviks came to power. But later revolutionaries had to face defeats and repression. Ahtonio Gramsci was one such revolutionary who had come out with insights relevant to the situation of defeat of revolutionary struggle in Italy. Inspired by Gramsci's experience and insights, Ajit Roy believed that the civil society has a greater role in the transformation of the society than just the so-called vanguard revolutionary party. He analysed different civil society movements across the world and drew lessons of the relevance of civil society. Unless there is consensus among the civil society revolution will be a dictatorship. Unless the party is deeply rooted in the society and involved in the task of building such consensus among the civil society it will be a sterile party that will produce only violence and bloodshed. His great appreciation of Gramsci's ideas resulted in the writing a book on Gramsci in Bengali.

Long before the Soviet Union had moved away from Stalin Ajit Roy had exposed Stalin and his dictatorial policies. He was very critical of the succesive presidents of the Soviet Union but was hoping that someone would emerge in Soviet Union who would bring it to the right path. He welcomed very enthusiastically Gorbachev's attempt at Glasnost and Perestroika. He had given lectures to several gatherings on the essence of Gorbachev's policies and he thought it would open up the Soviet society and bring about political freedom so that the civil society will go along with the development of the Soviet Union. Ajit Roy did not consider Gorbachev at fault for the breakup of the Soviet Union. He was convinced that Boris Yeltsin brought about the ruin of Soviet Union.

Ajit Roy vehemently campaigned for disarmament and against nuclear weapons. To put an end to the arms race he wanted the Soviet Union to unilaterally disarm itself. He had faith that if Soviet Union disarmed itself of nuclear arms there would be no attack on Soviet Union from America and the West and the Soviet Union would become stronger. Disarmament by Soviet Union would take the sting out of the American arms. His analysis went further. He believed that America used USSR as an excuse to go for massive production of arms. But the real purpose of American arms production was to solve the crisis within the American Capitalism.

Ajit Roy has authored around 10 books in English and a few in Bengali. He also used to contribute to the Economic and Political Weekly.
"The Management Accountant", Calcutta has this to say about Ajit Roy's writing. "Ajit is among those rare breed of Indian Intellectuals who would form their conclusion on the basis of a serious study of the facts of the Indian situation and not try to fit the facts into their pre-conceived notions."

[This piece is by some close acquaintance of Ajit Roy from Bangalore, circulating in Net]

Vol. 45, No. 12, Sep 30 -Oct 6 2012

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