The Concept of Fascism in Colonial India: M.N. Roy and The Problem of Freedom


  • Disha Karnad Jani Princeton University



M.N. Roy was an Indian-born, widely-travelled activist and intellectual who moved over the course of his life from roles in anti-colonial resistance, militant organizing, Communist and Comintern circles, to what has been termed ‘radical humanism.’ In narratives of the same, as well as in those of the transnational 1920s and 30s and interwar cosmopolitanism, he and intellectuals like him are invoked in order to shape narratives around interconnectedness and parallel modernities that marked the twentieth century. Roy’s own political thought, however, as laid out in one text in particular, lends itself to an alternate reading of his life and moment: one in which resistance is not framed against European empire and with national sovereignty in mind; rather, The Problem Of Freedom (1945) sets up the road ahead for India against the threat of fascism. Roy in this text uses fascism as a concept to warn of the threat to come for the post-independence nation-state. Using Reinhart Koselleck’s framework for conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte), this paper examines the historic, psychoanalytic, and propagandistic elements of this text in order to question some of the key assumptions for how global history and intellectual history are written.

Author Biography

Disha Karnad Jani, Princeton University

Disha Karnad Jani is a Ph.D. student in the Department of History at Princeton University. Before her graduate work at Princeton, she received a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History and Political Economy from McGill University. She is interested in the intersecting histories of empire, the nation-state, radicalism, liberalism, political institutions, and resistance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.