“For India with its vastness and diversity, there is only one possible solution: Only anarchist, decentralized, economic and practical socialism will avoid the various quarrels for political power. – none of the modern “new-fanged” theories where all show that the state is identical to society and therefore to socialism. [Emphasis added]
MPT Acharya, “What is socialism? (1928)
Mandayam Prativadi Bhayankaram Tirumal ‘MPT’ Acharya (1887-1954) was the most important but least known Indian anarchist activist and theorist of the first half of the 20th century. As a political movement, anarchism arose out of debates between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin within the First International in the 1860s and quickly became a widespread left movement in the colonial world – with the exception of the India – during the long 19th century. By emphasizing individual freedom, mutual aid and revolutionary communism, anarchists rejected authoritarianism, imperialism, borders, prisons, parliamentary politics and the centralization of power in the state, between others. To rediscover the anarchist life and thoughts of Acharya is to remember the formulation of anti-colonial thought and the struggles against totalitarian oppression – be it colonialism, Bolshevism, nationalism or fascism – struggles that reverberate across India and the world today.
From the end of 1922, when he returned to Europe and settled in Berlin, and for the next three decades, from Berlin and Bombay, Acharya fought for the politics and philosophy of anarchism as the only way forward for India – Colonial India and Post – Colonial India – to achieve a meaningful sense of freedom. In a time when revolutionary politics were dominated by nationalism and communism, Acharya’s anarchist ideas stood out from these currents, but his contributions to libertarian socialist thought in India and around the world remain largely forgotten.
Acharya was born in Madras in 1887 and attended Triplicane Hindu High School, where VS Srinivasa Sastri was principal at the time. By the age of 20, he became involved in the Swadeshi movement in India and fled the country at the end of 1908. Spending the following decade in exile among anti-colonial, nationalist and socialist networks across Europe, Middle East and North America, Acharya found herself in Russia in 1919 during the revolutionary years. Joining a mission in Afghanistan led by Mahendra Pratap, Yakov Suritz and Igor Reisner, in Kabul, he abandoned the nationalist agenda of Pratap and instead created the Indian Revolutionary Association (IRA) – comprising revolutionary pan-Islamists, nationalists, proto -communists and anarchists. – with Abdur Rabb. As a delegate of the IRA, Acharya attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in July-August 1920 in Petrograd and Moscow and met there for the first time MN Roy and Abani Mukherji.
Alongside Roy, Mukherji, Mohamed Shafique and Mohamed Ali, Acharya was one of the co-founders of the Indian Communist Party (CPI) in Tashkent in October 1920. However, Acharya quickly fell out with Roy – mainly over the issue of l membership. both the IRA and the CPI (Roy did not allow membership in other revolutionary bodies) and the refusal to submit India’s struggle for independence to the Comintern – and he was expelled of the CPI in January 1921. In Moscow, Acharya instead joined forces with well-known anarchists such as Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Rocker and Milly Rocker, and began working for the American Relief Administration alongside his friend MA Faruqui and the Russian anarchist Abba Gordin. By then, Acharya had embraced anarchism. In 1922, he met and married Magda Nachman, a talented Russian artist. Increasingly critical of the oppressive Bolshevik regime, Acharya’s presence in Moscow was no longer tolerated by the Communists.
In mid-November 1922, Acharya and Nachman fled Moscow and arrived in Berlin, where Acharya soon attended the founding meeting of the International Association of Anarcho-Syndicalist Workers (IWMA). In the following years, Acharya frequently corresponded with prominent anarchists such as Alexander Berkman, Tom Keell, Augustin Souchy, Guy Aldred and E. Armand, he began to send anarchist literature to India to influence labor organizations. and leftist, and he wrote extensively for international anarchist publications such as Der Syndikalist, By Arbeider, IWMA Press Service, Outside, Acción Social Obrera and Road to freedom. In these publications he wrote about workers’ and independent struggles in India, how anarchism was the only way to avoid colonialism and state-run dictatorship, and the need to fight communism in India.
At the same time, he always associated with other Indians in Berlin such as Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and ACN Nambiar, attended meetings of the Central European Hindusthan Association, was briefly involved in the League Against Imperialism and wrote about anarchist politics for Indian periodicals such as Cheeky, the mahratte, The people and The Bombay Chronicle, being the Berlin correspondent of the latter newspaper. In an article by The people from 1928, he argued:
“For India, with its vastness and diversity, there is only one possible solution: anarchist, decentralized, economic and practical socialism on its own will avoid the various quarrels for political power – none of modern theories “New” where all show that the State is identical to society and therefore to socialism.
In doing so, he tried to bring the issue of anarchism into India’s struggle for independence. However, leftist leaders such as CR Das, M. Singaravelu, and JP Begerhotta avoided Acharya’s anarchist thoughts and followed the Communist line.
In 1927, at the invitation of his old friend Faruqui and the Dutch anarchists Albert de Jong and Arthur Müller-Lehning, Acharya joined the International Anti-Militarist Bureau and the International Antimilitarist Commission, and he wrote frequently on anti-militarist issues. imperialism and anti-militarism for the monthly magazine of these two organizations Press services.
As a committed anarchist and anti-militarist, Acharya was attracted to but remained critical of Mahatma Gandhi’s ongoing campaign of non-violence in India. Inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy, but drawing on anarchist ideas of mutual aid, Acharya’s seminal work Principles of non-violent economics (1947) had originally been published under the title “Les Trusts et la Démocratie” in the French anarchist periodical Outside in 1928, but still found an echo when it was reprinted in independent India.
Defying communist thought, Acharya pleaded for autonomous local municipalities, a decentralized society and a diffuse democracy:
“Monopolies – state, private or combined – can only function at the expense of the majority of the members of society. In order to alleviate the distress of humanity, both in peace and in war, the only remedy is to abolish these three systems and not to experience and tolerate them.
Witnessing the rise of Nazism in Germany in the early 1930s, Acharya and Nachman had to flee Berlin. After finally obtaining a passport after several years of application, with the help of Subhas Chandra Bose, they fled to Switzerland in early 1934, remaining with Nachman’s family in Zurich, and throughout the following year. lived between Zurich and Paris. At the end of March 1935, Acharya finally left Europe, never to return, and arrived in Bombay in early April, where Nachman joined him a year later.
Cut off from the international anarchist movement when World War II broke out in 1939, shortly after the end of the war, Acharya reconnected with the world anarchist milieu and joined the International Institute of Sociology (IIS) in Bombay, an established libertarian organization. by Ranchoddas Bhavan Lotvala, whom Acharya had met in Berlin. In the following years, as the IIS changed its name to the Libertarian Socialist Institute (LSI) due to anarchist influences from Acharya, the LSI reached out to anarchist circles around the world for contributions to their project, a launched a periodical called The libertarian socialist, and established an anarchist library, and during this time Acharya again contributed articles to international anarchist publications such as Freedom, Tierra y Libertad, Anarchist Studies, Counter-current, Word, and Die Freie Gesellschaft. In these periodicals, Acharya criticized the newly independent Indian state for continuing the oppression of the former colonial rulers – the workers had not obtained freedom, he believed – and criticized the rulers for abandoning Gandhian nonviolence. .
In 1948, when the international anarchist movement came together again through the Commission for International Anarchist Relations, Acharya was the point of contact for India, alongside DN Wanchoo of Lucknow, the son of a of his friends. In the early 1950s, the two attempted to start a new anarchist publication in Bombay called The crucible, soliciting contributions from the international anarchist community, but after Nachman’s untimely death in February 1951 and lack of money, the project was abandoned. Instead, Acharya wrote “in an anarchist way,” as he put it to Russian-American anarchist Boris Yelensky, to periodicals such as India time, Thought, and Economic weekly, and most often at Kaiser-i-Hind and Hariján, whose editor, KG Mashruwala, also embraced anarchism before his death in 1952.
Diagnosed with tuberculosis in early 1948, Acharya’s later years were plagued by famine and disease, and in mid-March 1954 he dragged himself to Bhatia Hospital in Bombay, where he was died March 20, 1954. With his death, the prospect of an anarchist movement in India also died.
A unique figure in the international anarchist movement and in the struggle for Indian freedom, Acharya left behind a substantial body of work – over two hundred articles on anarchism – but remains a forgotten figure. He deserves to be remembered not only for his tireless agitation for anarchism in India, but also for his commitment to, in the words of Hariján editor-in-chief Maganbhai P. Desai, “a free and decentralized social order based on complete freedom, equality and the dignity of the true human personality”.
Ole Birk Laursen is an Affiliate Researcher at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands, and is currently writing a biography of MPT Acharya.