On Economic Determinism
If you are thinking seriously of developing the social consciousness of the masses, if you believe that the middle class cannot come to power without the active participation of the illiterate and property-less majority of our people, then you should not dismiss the discontent of the workers and peasants as “simply economic”. No community is ever involved in any political movement unless urged on by economic motives. The patriotism of the “thinking portion” of our population originates in the clearly-defined consciousness which this class has of its own economic needs. If you want the masses to take an active part in the political movement, you will have to go down into the economics of their lives, find out their basic necessities, and arouse in them the consciousness of these necessities and how to go about winning them in the political struggle.
Why do the so-called “thinking” elements of our people take a more active part in the political movement than the “common” people? It is not because this class is specially created by God to monopolize the political destinies of the nation, but because as a class, it is more conscious of its own economic interests. And why? Not because of any natural superiority, but because they have more access to education. Some want industrial development, which will increase the amount of their profits; others want the doors to the higher government positions thrown open to them; still others want such a system of education as will enable them to earn more wages, etc. etc. Politics is based upon economic interests and necessities. Consequently, the political movement in which we want the masses of our people to take active part, must take into consideration the economic desires and necessities of the latter. That is all I have to say. If a party will be organized in India upon this principle, with an economic programme translated into political activities, backed up by direct action of the masses, there will be no further need to bother you with unwelcome heaps of literature.
A few concrete points. You seem to be very much concerned with the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity. This is the logical reaction of our old exclusively Hindu Nationalism, which was simply Pan-Hinduism when carried to its extreme conclusion, forming the antithesis of the aggressive Pan-Islamism. Now permit me to point out to you that, so long as you will endeavor to rear the structure of this much-needed Hindu-Muslim unity upon the thin surface of the “thinking portion” of our people exclusively, you may achieve mutual cordiality, but real unity will remain an unsolved problem. Here again, we must go down to the roots of things. It is upon the dynamics and not the statics of the question that we must base our calculations. The preachings and exhortations of well-meaning patriots have their subjective significance, but the main problem can be solved only by the development of objective forces. The unity of the various communities inhabiting India should not be regarded as a mere political exigency. This unity will be achieved only by a social readjustment taking place as a result of the growth of new economic forces.
The vertical divisions of our society can be eliminated only by the intensification of the horizontal division. That is to say, the divisions of caste, creed and religion will be replaced by class-cleavage, which divides society as a whole into two great, hostile camps, – that of the propertied exploiter and that of the expropriated and exploited working class. Such being the case, Hindu-Muslim and every other communal unity can and will be realized only through the gradual process of development of class-demarcation. There is no other way. You may hate it; you may try by all means to prevent it; but it will be in vain, since the natural and inevitable development of social forces cannot be set at nought by our desires. If you are courageous enough to get a firm grip on the economic foundations of our movement, the question of communal unity will not worry you so much; because then you will see how the pressure of economic forces is breaking down the ancient communal and religious prejudices and traditions.
A landlord is first of all a landlord, and a Hindu or Mussulman or anything else after that. He does not take any less rent from a tenant who is his co-religionist than from one who is not. The same holds true of employers of labour. Have you ever seen a Muslim or Hindu or Parsi employer paying. a higher scale of wages to his brothers in the faith? These are general laws of economics that hold good everywhere. One can take them a priori for granted, because they have been proved and are proven true wherever tested. One dare not say that they are applicable to some countries and inapplicable to others. We cannot seek to escape from the working of these economic laws by trying to believe that.
India is a special creation of Providence. Our communal unity will be realized through the economic development of the country, just as communal unity has been realized everywhere else. Sentimental propaganda is useless. Your “thinking portion of the people” will on the contrary, try to preserve our communal animosities, since by this way they can keep their hold on the situation. No my dear friend, we must determine our method of work, not according to the convenience and capability of our handful of intellectual aristocrats, but according to the economic interests of the overwhelming majority of our people. Just so long as we delude ourselves and others on the subject of superiority as measured by a university degree, just so long will we live in our heaven of intellectual isolation, happy perhaps, but condemned forever to our chains of slavery.
— M.N. Roy, 10.11.1922 (Source: Marxist Internet Archive)